Ready meals are still in vogue according to the latest research from Mintel.
And while they were once the preserve of the couch potato, today they are more likely to appeal to health fanatics, as good-for-you varieties drive market growth.
The market for ready meals in the five largest European countries increased by a healthy 5 per cent between 2006 and 2007 alone to reach 8.4 billion Euros.
What is more, sales look set for a further 18 per cent growth and will almost reach the 10 billion Euros mark (9.9 billion Euros) by 2011.
European consumer analyst at Mintel, Michelle Strutton, said, "Despite their once poor image, sales of ready meals have continued to grow as manufacturers have successfully tapped into recent healthy eating trends.
"European consumers have become more concerned about the quality of their food and saving time or effort is no longer a strong enough selling point.”
She added, “In the future, ready meals need to appeal to shoppers by continuing to offer other benefits which fit in with consumers' lifestyles, such as organic, all natural ingredients and healthier-for-you recipes," she adds.
UK: Brits look for quick food fix
The UK ready meals market is still the largest when compared to Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Sales of ready meals here hit the 3 billion Euro (£2 billion sterling) mark last year, compared to nearer 2 billion Euros in France (2.0 billion) and Germany (1.8 billion).
And despite being the largest market the UK will see around a 25 per cent increase in sales from 2006 to 2011 to reach 3.7 billion euros or £2.6 billion sterling.
What is more, we Brits are most likely to eat ready meals more than once a week (23 per cent according to TGI Europa), compared to just 9 per cent in Germany - the least likely.
Strutton said, "Mintel's research shows that the UK is still king of convenience.
“The ready meals market in the UK is by far and away the most advanced in Europe. Suppliers here, especially the leading retailers such as M&S, are quick to react to new consumer trends, so offering a wide variety of exciting meals to appeal to everyone's tastes.”
Germany: Ready meals are more than just a flash in the pan
In the future, the German ready meals market will be the fastest growing of the five countries, expecting no less than 44 per cent growth between 2006 and 2011.
Strutton explained, "Due to the German's interest in discount retailers and low priced produce in the past, sales of ready meals have been held back as they tend to be a more expensive choice.
"But ready meals will now benefit from the economic improvement that is seeing Germans start to concentrate more on higher priced options.”
France: Not yet a nation of convenience converts
Meanwhile, France, the home of fine food and dining, will see the slowest growth, with sales of ready meals increasing just 9 per cent between 2006 and 2011.
Strutton concluded, "In France, families do still enjoy eating together when possible.
“On these occasions they will undoubtedly make more effort to cook from scratch, or at least use a combination of fresh ingredients and pre-prepared sauces and other convenience foods, which is why ready meals have yet to make the same impact on consumers.”
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