What you need to know

Prepared meals are common purchases for Irish consumers, but there remains a strong fondness for scratch cooking in Ireland which creates barriers for the category. During the pandemic as more consumers are scratch cooking, the data reveals that consumers have looked to prepared meals, to some extent, for some excitement and to try something outside their cooking comfort zones.

COVID-19 has had a somewhat negative impact on prepared meal sales in Ireland in 2020 as consumers warm towards scratch cooking; not just for financial reasons but for leisurely purposes and because they have more time on their hands.

Prepared meals are very much considered a time saver but consumers now have more time on their hands and this shift towards more time spent at home and cooking has resulted in less interest in prepared meals. Furthermore, reducing trips to the store in general means there was less opportunity for impulsive buying around dinner time – a peak time for ready meals.

With foodservice providers being forced to close in IoI for 4-6 weeks (either continuously or intermittently between October and December 2020), this is seeing more consumers looking to prepared meals to offer the out-of-home dining experience for in-home occasions with 37% of RoI and 38% of NI consumers agreeing they ate premium prepared meals as a substitute for restaurants during the lockdown. This offers significant opportunities for prepared meals to collaborate with restaurants and chefs to provide that restaurant-quality experience.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour and prepared meals.

  • Disruption to the prepared meal market caused by consumers spending greater levels of time at home.

  • Exploring the opportunities in healthy ready meals and the demand to quantify nutrition.

  • How prepared meals can better leverage sustainability claims.

COVID-19: Market context

This update on the impact that COVID-19 is having on the market was prepared on 26 November 2020

In RoI, the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in February though numbers were small with the first death related to COVID-19 not recorded until 13 March 2020. One day previous, RoI was put into lockdown on 12 March.

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. As the case level rose, the UK government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March which was adopted in NI and the region went into lockdown.

Lockdown had eased in July 2020 but both NI and RoI have since been placed under tighter restrictions as a second wave emerged. In October 2020, NI was placed in a four-week lockdown with foodservice closures (excluding takeaway) and a continuation of these measures occurred in November/December 2020. In RoI, a lockdown was introduced in October 2020 and lasted until the end of November 2020 (six weeks) with foodservice and non-essential retail closed. Face masks are mandatory (as of August/September 2020) in many establishments and public transport.

Issues covered in this Report

This Report covers the NI and RoI retail market for ready meals, covering chilled, frozen, ambient and ready-to-cook meals. For the purposes of this Report four main categories of ready meals will be discussed:

  • Chilled – Complete chilled meals which are required to be heated in the oven or microwave prior to serving, eg lasagne, tikka masala, spaghetti Bolognese. This consists of a complete meal, so consumers do not need to add items, such as vegetables, pasta or sauce.

  • Frozen – Complete frozen meals which are required to be heated in the oven or microwave prior to serving, eg shepherd’s pie.

  • Ready-to-cook meals – Meals that need no further preparation other than cooking/baking the products according to on-pack instructions, eg Tesco Fresh & Easy Chicken Breast with Sage & Onion Stuffing.

  • Ambient meals – Covers room temperature-stored ready meals such as pot noodle, porridge pot and meal kits. Meal kits are products that retail with seasoning, a recipe and other additions – eg noodles, wraps etc – but which require the addition of ingredients to complete the meal, such as vegetables and/or meat/poultry/fish.

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