Consumers want healthier ready meals, more plant-based options

Brits love the convenience of ready meals but more of us are demanding healthier alternatives to meat. That’s the finding of a survey by Eating Better, an alliance of UK organisations with health, environment and resources perspectives.

UK spending on ready meals topped £4.7bn in 2017, making the UK the biggest ready meal market in Europe. Nine out of 10 of us eat ready meals or ready-to-cook products (Mintel).

Eating Better’s aim was to find out how food retailers are responding to the growing demand for ‘less and better’ meat eating by supplying more vegetarian, flexitarian and plant-based ready meals options.

The survey revealed that 44% of British people are willing or already committed to cutting down on meat or cutting it out completely. They also want supermarkets to offer more meat-free ready meals or meals with less meat to help them reduce their meat consumption, thus presenting an opportunity for independents to continue to lead in this respect.

Meat was the main ingredient in three out of four (77%) of the 1,350 different own-brand and branded ready meals surveyed from 10 retailers (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Morrisons, Asda, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl). Vegetarian, plant-based and meat substitute dishes comprised only 14% of the ready meals surveyed.

Totally plant-based (vegan) ready meals with no animal products were generally in very short supply (3%). The exception was Tesco which offered 18 different dishes – the only retailer in the survey with a specific plant-based (vegan) range, Wicked Kitchen. But these were the most expensive at £4 each.

While retailers are generally keen to promote the provenance and quality of the fresh meat they sell, this didn’t generally apply to meat used as an ingredient in ready meals, with very few retailers using higher animal welfare certification schemes and/or indicating this on labels. Only three retailers (M&S, Waitrose and Co-op) included ingredient meat sourced for their own-brand ready meals in their farm animal welfare policies.

A report on ready meals by Innova Market Insights reveals that UK supermarkets are lagging behind the global trend. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of ready meals launched with vegan positioning globally showed an average annual growth rate of 58% (CAGR, 2013-2017).

Eating Better is calling on retailers to:

  • Set targets to increase the number and proportion of plant-based and healthier vegetarian ready meals.
  • Label provenance of all meat used in ready meals as required for fresh meat.
  • Increase the proportion of UK-sourced meat alongside commitment to higher animal welfare standards (minimum RSPCA Assured).
  • Price vegetarian and plant-rich dishes at a comparatively affordable price for customers, not as a premium niche market.
  • Ensure ready meal ranges are in-line with UK Government advice (the Eatwell Guide) to encourage increased consumption of pulses, vegetables and whole grains and reduced consumption of livestock products, particularly red and processed meats.

See what the supermarkets are doing in the ready meals sector here.

Read more Insights here...