Ready meal sales hit by rising prices, squeezed budgets and horse meat scandal

Sales of ready meals have slowed due to rising prices, cash-strapped shoppers and the horsemeat scandal, according to data from SymphonyIRI Group.

With sales of over £2bn in 2012, the market for ready meals has been a high growth category driven by the overwhelming need for convenience and value for money in people’s lives, said researchers. However, eventually the category has experienced a slow-down in its spectacular growth trend but not just because of the horse meat scandal.

Value sales growth of the total ready meals market for November and December 2012 dipped to around 1%. In January 2013, value sales began to fall below 2012 levels. By the end of January and into February 2013, further pressure brought about by the horse meat scandal, which saw products removed from sale, year-on-year value growth had dropped by as much as -5% in the two weeks ending 23 February 2013. The dip was driven by a big reduction in the frozen sector of -13% but also with the chilled sector down by -3%.

The number of packs of chilled ready meals sold was down in the latest four weeks following the horse meat scandal (up to 23 February 2013) by an average of -2%, said SymphonyIRI Group. However the biggest decline during this period was seen in frozen ready meals, down by -14% in packs sold, for the week ended 23 February, compared to the same week in 2012. 

SymphonyIRI Group has recorded a decline in the sales of frozen ready meals in the UK over the last three years – down from 295m sold in 2010 (up to 5 February 2011) to just under 271m 2012 (up to 5 February 2013). 

The latest survey of shoppers across Europe by SymphonyIRI Group (conducted at the end of 2012) also highlighted on average 74% of shoppers in Europe  (65% in the UK) said they wanted to buy less ready-made food and cook more highlighting the attention consumers have been paying to where their food comes from for some time.

Tim Eales, director of strategic Insight at SymphonyIRI Group, said: “We were seeing signs of a cold wind blowing through the frozen ready meal market, even before the horse meat scandal, as pressure on cash-strapped consumers’ increases. In 2012 shoppers bought no more packaged groceries than in 2011 but had to pay close to £2bn more for them. So now, even some of the fastest growing categories are struggling and the horse meat scandal has added to this demise. History suggests, however, our memories are short and so it should not take long for the effects of the latest revelations to fade away.”