The UK's ready meal category now accounts for £1.5bn (US$2.9bn) and is growing at 6% a year, according to food and grocery think tank IGD, which also predicted a thriving future for the category.

Over half the population now spend less than 30 minutes preparing their main meal and 11% spend less than 10 minutes, a trend that is driving the demand for greater convenience. IGD's latest report Food Consumption 2005 reveals what the trends are and what is likely to be demanded in future.

IGD predicts that with an ageing population (over 65s will make up 19% of the population by 2011), an increase in single person households (13% of the population in 2004), greater number of women at work (12.8 million), greater numbers of people in employment (28.1 million in 2003) with more disposable income and less free time, the future market growth will come from innovation in convenience.

Consumption figures confirm this trend:

  • Poultry overtook beef as the favourite meat in 1988 and remains in the number one spot
  • Minced beef is more popular than joints or steaks
  • Fish ready meals exceeded consumption of white fish and tinned fish in 2001
  • Consumption of rice and pasta continues to grow whilst consumption of potatoes declines
  • Vegetable consumption overall is in decline but some categories are increasing (lettuce, salads and mushrooms). Cabbage consumption had declined by more than 60% since 1983
  • Sweet snacks remain steady but with a decline in consumption of non-chocolate biscuits
  • Consumption of savoury snacks has increased over time with greatest growth in crisps and potato snacks, growing 100% between 1983 and 1996. Since 1996 this has declined in overall volumes
  • Fresh fruit consumption has increased overall with banana consumption increasing more than 100% in the last 20 years. Other growth has been in the convenient fruit that do not require peeling or preparation (grapes, soft fruits and stoned fruit)

"The UK food industry is a world leader in terms of offering convenience foods. It has innovated through applying new food and packaging technologies. Consumption trends, changing demographics and lifestyles indicate that the pace of change is only likely to get quicker. Shoppers also want greater customisation (i.e. products that suit their specific needs) and success will go to those players that offer new and innovative food solutions. I see the next five years being a period of bold and exciting new development," said Joanne Denney-Finch, IGD chief executive.

For more information or to purchase this report, click here.