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Own Labels Fulfill Demand for Value-Priced Ready Meals in Great Britain

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The frozen ready meals market in the UK is expanding year on year, according to new Q3 Kantar data, with volume growth of 0.4% and value up 14.6% in the 52-week period through this past September 3, compared to the same period in 2022. However, value growth can largely be attributed to inflation evident across the whole food industry.

In the same period, volume sales of frozen private label products were up 3.2%, compared to the same period last year, despite frozen branded volume sales decreasing by 7.3%.

“High energy prices and rising costs of ingredients and labor are just a few factors which are continuing to drive food inflation,” according to Rupert Ashby, chief executive of the British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF). “Consumers have less disposable income and are therefore being forced to make more budget-savvy choices when it comes to their weekly shop. As a result, shoppers appear to be switching to private label products as a way of saving precious pounds.

“Additionally, a survey carried out by YouGov revealed that shoppers significantly favor private label ready meals over branded, with 51% of respondents preferring private label compared to only 10% choosing branded. This shows that private label frozen food is providing a solution for many shoppers looking to stretch their budget during the current cost of living crisis, and is proving itself as a tasty, nutritious and affordable way of stocking our kitchens.”

Budget Friendly

According to Tesco’s Annual Report and Financial Statements 2023, concerns over the cost of living has made customers are being more selective and deliberate on what they spend their money on, as they look for ways to make their food budget go further.

The report stated: “Our value proposition of Low Everyday Prices combined with exceptional value offered by Clubcard Prices and Aldi Price Match means we are at the most competitive position we have been in for many years. For some customers, it is trading down from national brands to great value Tesco products. For others, it is using our great range of ready meals instead of a takeaway or restaurant meal.”

Frozen ready meals under Tesco’s Hearty Food Co brand start at just 85p for Mac ’N’ Cheese, Cheese and Tomato Pasta, and Chicken Curry and Rice. Tesco own label ready meals cost £2 for single-portion offerings, such as Minced Beef Hotpot, Chicken Jalfrezi and Rice, Macaroni Cheese and South Indian Style Butternut and Chickpea Curry.
Asda also continues to aid families during tough economic times by keeping prices in check and launching new products that offer consumers great value. This year it cut prices of more than 200 private label lines by an average of 9%, which included popular ready meals.

Asda’s Just Essentials range of ready meals start at 85p for Spaghetti Bolognaise and Chicken Curry and Rice, £1 for Beef Lasagne and Chips and Curry Sauce. The supermarket chain’s other ready meals are priced at £1.75, with a deal offering four meals for £6.

“We know that families are continuing to feel the pinch financially and are looking for help to make their grocery budget stretch further. Whenever there is an opportunity to help them make their money go further by lowering prices we will continue to do so,” said Kris Comerford, Asda’s chief commercial officer.

Frozen Versus Chilled

Frozen ready meals’ growth for both volume and value are opposite to that of the chilled ready meals market, which is seeing double digit declines in some cuisines, according to Iceland Foods.

With consumers battling the cost of living crisis, the price of food is a key consideration for shoppers seeking value for money without compromising on taste and quality. Subsequently, consumers are turning to the frozen food aisles for much of their shopping, including ready meals.

“In February 2023, Which? captured the prices of own label fresh and frozen products across eight popular food categories from eight major UK supermarkets,” said BFFF’s Ashby. “According to the findings, shoppers can make huge savings of up to 73% by purchasing frozen ready meals over their fresh counterparts. Consequently, we have seen the value of the frozen ready meals market grow by 6% in 2022, outpacing the 2.9% growth of chilled ready meals.”

New Product Development

August was a big month for new private label ready meal launches at Iceland Foods and Food Warehouse. Over 500 new own label products debuted, as well as branded items from Cathedral City, TGI Fridays and Mars.

Among the frozen food specialist retailer’s new own label products are a BBQ pulled pork quarter pounder meal kit, a double bacon cheeseburger kit, breaded popcorn shrimp, a fruit curry, toffee apple cheesecake and a cherry bakewell cheesecake.

Andrew Staniland, group buying director for Iceland Foods and The Food Warehouse, commented: “We’re always big on value and variety. Iceland’s latest range of hundreds of new products, many of which shoppers simply won’t find anywhere else, is testament to our commitment to put money back in shoppers’ pockets when they need it most. The variety and value of our latest product launch is one more way we’re showing out ongoing commitment to helping families across the UK eat well for less every day.”

Environmentally Friendly

The fact that frozen ready meals are highly convenient, affordable and offer great value is just part of the attraction. As consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the food they eat and the negative effects of food waste, more shoppers are realizing the eco benefits of frozen food.

“Frozen ready meals offer excellent value without compromising on quality,” said Ashby. “The two most common reasons for food waste are fresh products being left in the fridge until they become inedible and excessive cooking. Opting for frozen ready meals over chilled will help combat food waste as their longer shelf-life affords consumers more time to consume them before spoiling.”

Although the frozen ready meals market is not currently as big as chilled, the fresh ready meals market is being challenged by inflation, with the average retail price up to 30% more costly than frozen.

“Customers are seeing the value and the convenience of frozen ready meals, especially as they combine great taste across all tiers and reduce waste,” said Sally Bentley, category buying manager – ready meals at Iceland.”

Meanwhile, in the lead up to Christmas, Iceland Foods Executive Chairman Richard Walker has announced that the company will redirect money normally spent on holiday advertising campaigns to help keep prices low at the checkout counter.

“We’re doubling the number of price-slashed products to 1,000 and greatly expanding our range of £1 items to ease the pressure on our customers. These kinds of initiatives is where money from a TV ad is going towards,” said Walker.

– Reported by Sarah Welsh