A new study has found European ready-meal manufacturers are neglecting the family segment. Food makers have placed too much emphasis on single people, according to Datamonitor's report, leaving a ready market for family-sized prepared meals. As ready meal sales growth slows in the major European markets, companies will need to target new segments as well as protect their existing market share.

Prepared meals have become standard fare as consumers across Europe look to reduce the amount of time they spend on routine tasks such as cooking. However, according to a new Datamonitor report, 'Rethinking Prepared Meals', manufacturers have been concentrating too hard on the singleton market.

Families often face time pressures, especially if both parents have jobs. Yet, of all the prepared meals new-product launches tracked between 1999-2001, only 9% claimed to offer servings for four or more people. Currently, larger portion sizes are more common in frozen prepared meals than in chilled ready meals. However, as consumers trade up to higher value goods there may be potential to offer family-sized meal portions in the chilled category. For example, UK retailer Sainsbury's offers 'take-away' style chilled ready meals for a family of four.

Targeting parents with nutritionally balanced meals for their children is also proving an important area. Parents are naturally concerned about the health of their children and many are prepared to pay a price premium to ensure their children receive better nutrition. Clearly there is often a tradeoff, as children will typically prefer indulgent food that is generally less nutritious. The growth of 'better-for-you' alternatives, that promise certain levels of nutrition whilst still offering indulgence, can be viewed as suitable compromise between parent and child. Manufacturers are currently missing out on the potential of the children's market - only 2% of the products tracked were explicitly targeted at children.

Growth in the prepared meal market has been very strong but this will decelerate over the next five years as markets begin to mature. The pattern of growth rates will lead to the emergence of a three tiered market structure, with Italy being the fastest growth country. Spain and Sweden will be in a middle growth group and there will be low growth in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Manufacturers in these markets will be seeking to consolidate brand portfolios and protect market share.

(c) 2001 Datamonitor. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Datamonitor shall not be liable for errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.