The sales of certain ready meal lines in the UK are in "terminal decline" as more local consumers look to cook from scratch, retail giant Asda has claimed.

Paul Kelly, Asda's corporate affairs director, told a food conference in London that a growing number of UK shoppers were turning their backs on selected lines in favour of cooking from raw ingredients.

Kelly said the economic downturn had led to more scratch cooking and argued that, despite concern over the levels of culinary knowledge in the UK, the growing confidence among consumers to cook should be "nurtured" if the country wanted to develop a more sustainable food sector.

"The recession is delivering some good; customers are returning to almost post-war thinking and are returning to scratch cooking," Kelly said today (12 November) at a conference organised by UK organic body The Soil Association. "Ready meals are in decline and in some cases are in terminal decline."

Prepared meals have been one of the apparent victims of the downturn and sales have suffered but, among other players in the industry, there has been a confidence that growth in parts of the category is on the way back.

In August, Greencore, the UK's largest sandwich maker, told just-food that it was starting to see consumers again shopping for convenience food.

The Soil Association conference attempted to outline how the food sector needs to change to become more sustainable - and to continue to feed the planet amid a growing population and rising temperatures.

This summer, UK Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said the country needed a "radical" rethink of how it produces and consumes its food to continue enjoying healthy and affordable food in the future.

Speakers at the conference - including Soil Association chief executive Patrick Holden, London "food czar" Rosie Boycott and the Sustainable Development Commission's Sue Dibb - argued for changes including greater production and consumption of local food, increased investment in culinary education in schools and reform of the public procurement of food.