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:

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

Read more Insights here...