Meal components are proving popular but manufacturers need to emphasize quality. A new report from Datamonitor finds consumers want food products that provide convenience but still allow them to be involved in meal preparation. Despite a lucrative market, the growth of private label products will put particular pressure on secondary branded manufacturers, who may be better off focusing on niche areas.

Consumer trends affecting meal components (prepared foods that speed up the cooking process but are not complete meals) are contradictory, according to a new Datamonitor (DTM.L) report "Speed Scratch Meal Components". The movement towards greater use of convenience foods is of benefit to meal components, but consumers' desires for greater health benefits and control over the ingredients, as well as the taste and texture of foods is detrimental.

The challenge manufacturers face is to provide better quality and added-value benefits, to make consumers think of meal components as raw ingredients in themselves and use them in everyday cooking. This is a major challenge, as it requires overcoming consumer perceptions that meal components are less healthy than other foods and that they feature 'artificial' tastes. If these perceptions can be overcome through high quality innovations, meal components can maximize their share of consumers' total food intake.

There is also the opportunity to target new occasions, such as evening social occasions. This is a crucial area that has already been targeted by meal kits (such as tortilla kits) in particular. However the potential is as yet under exploited, with only a limited number of meal kits presently targeting this occasion. A kit allowing a meal for 10 people to be prepared quickly with only the addition of a minimal amount of ingredients can provide real convenience benefits and offer something more interesting than pizzas.

As retailers across continental European and the US seek to increase the share of private label products in their portfolios there will be greater pressure on brand manufacturers. Whilst the major brands will still command significant shelf space, the role of secondary brands that are used to vary the product mix will change. Secondary brand manufacturers will need to concentrate on more specific niche areas of meal components.

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