Rice wars have hit the microwaveable rice aisles as upstart brand Veetee looks set to overtake old-favourite Tilda.

IRI figures seen exclusively by The Grocer show Veetee’s microwaveable Dine In range - launched in May 2007 -has upped its market share in ready-to-heat to 8.1% in volume terms [4w/e 4 October 2008], up from less than 4% in August, closing in on Tilda’s 11.2% volume share. By value, however, Tilda still leads the way, up 4.4% to £3.1m versus Veetee’s 1.37% increase to £0.9m.

Musgrave Retail Partners buyer Jonathon Corderoy said Veetee stood a good chance of overtaking Tilda. “If Veetee continues to focus on NPD and improved marketing, it could grow its share even further,” he said.

Tilda has accused its rival of relying solely on deep-cut price promotions to grow sales. However Veetee chairman Moni Varma said: “Promotions introduced to encourage trial have been very successful but more importantly sales post-promotion have continued to accelerate. This would indicate that the quality of the product is generating consumer loyalty.”

Tilda scrapped its Rizazz range last spring only to relaunch it as Tilda Steamed Basmati in May.

It said it was introducing a Grains of Truth badge to packs to highlight that the rice has been genetically tested as 100% basmati, which it believes will give it the edge over its rival.

“We want to get a quality message across to consumers, to let them know we never use inferior grains,” said brand manager Anna Beheshti.

“Many consumers aren’t confident about cooking rice but many don’t realise it is the rice itself that makes the difference.” The updated packs are rolling out across the trade now.

The ready-to-heat rice category is the fastest-growing segment in the rice category with sales up 19.6% year-on-year [TNS 52w/e 18 May 2008].

Uncle Ben’s is the brand leader with its Express range, which accounts for 69.3% of volume sales and is worth £23.9m [IRI].