June, 2022

Looking at: plant-based ready-to-eat meals

Frozen or ready-to-eat products have always been a good compromise between taste, quality and price, as well as being long-lasting products. According to a consumer survey drawn up by MintelReady Meal – Europe 2021” in the five countries surveyed – France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain – around more than 20 percent of people regularly consume frozen/ready-to-eat meals 1-2 times a week.

This popularity also extends to plant-based products, giving consumers the opportunity to try new dishes with a wide variety of choices. Convenience and cost are key factors in this market, as well as the ability to easily try new cuisines without buying different ingredients.

Plant-based ready meals are slowly gaining their space

According to the annual report on U.S. plant-based industry growth drawn up by the Plant Based Food Association, sales of frozen or ready-to-eat plant-based meals increased by 28 % from 2019 to 2020, reaching $520 million in sales and capturing nearly 6-8 % of plant-based market in 2020. In 2021, their growth decreased, but they remain stable, reaching $513 million in sales.

There is also a greater variety of ready-to-eat or frozen products and according to the survey drawn up by the organization Eating Better and titled “Ready Meals 2020 snapshot survey” done in the United Kingdom, about 25 % of these are plant-based, vegetarian or vegan.

What are the main trends in this category?

Trends on frozen and ready-to-eat food category change depending on the location, as they are mostly influenced by cultural background and habits related to the local cuisine. In EMEA, according to the report “A year of innovation in prepared meals & meal kits, 2021” drawn up by Mintel, the trend is to innovate prepared products using sustainable ingredients and adopting environmentally friendly production. In APAC, on the other hand, the trend is two-fold, as there has been an increase in launching both frozen and ready-made plant-based products, as well as meals containing meat. In America, on the other hand, the focus is on developing new, innovative and interesting flavours while keeping the product healthy by using natural ingredients. In addition to region-specific trends, however, general trends can be found, based on key strengths that plant-based ready-to-eat and frozen meals have, such as inclusion of different cuisines or dietary regimes, innovation in taste, ingredients and textures, and convenience.

To keep up with consumer demand, plant-based frozen meal companies are rapidly evolving to offer a greater variety of options, from ethnic flavours, to allow anyone to try different types of cuisines, to better-for-you products, which keep health and environmental sustainability as their main focus. In detail, qualitative improvements in the plant-based products sector, oriented toward texture, flavour, and price, have led to a drastic revamping of the frozen meals section, which can now feature not only convenience, but also good taste and texture.

The opportunity

This area is what we can identify as a “white space,” which still allows a lot of room for innovation, using recognizable plant-based ingredients to create better products from a nutritional point of view, not only with regard to protein content, but also on the content of sugar, salt and natural ingredients. But that’s not all, the ready-to-eat meals sector is offering more creativity to producers: from being able to seize the “Enjoyment everywhere” trend by experimenting with new textures and flavours, to successfully conveying a country’s traditional cuisine into the corresponding plant-based alternative, differentiating and customizing their offer in a very country-specific way.