Cash rich, time poor consumers have no time to wait. If they want a meal they want it now and if not now, then in a couple of minutes.

“Busy lifestyles dictate the need to occasionally have a ready meal as consumers are often strapped for time and have more important things to do than cook a traditional meal,” says Mike Estlea, range manager for Budgens forecourt stores.

“Ready meals do exceptionally well in our forecourt outlets. They tend to have such comprehensive offers – particularly of fresh and chilled ranges – that they often become the local community store and a destination in themselves. The drive home after work or at the weekend is a good sales opportunity for forecourts and ready meals can do very well, especially if they can also provide equally convenient accompaniments such as ready-prepared salads and vegetables,” says Estlea.

He says that generally it’s the old favourites that sell the most – such as lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, cottage pie, chicken tikka masala and chicken chow mein. “Pizza and pasta dishes all do well, particularly margherita pizza, pepperoni pizza, spinach & ricotta tortellini plus our chilled fresh pasta and sauces. Garlic bread is also a winner and goes well with most dishes.”

Budgens runs regular promotions to encourage consumer trial of its ready meals and to increase awareness of the category. Estlea says this definitely builds business. The company is also constantly updating recipes and refreshing the range to grow the category.

Meanwhile at BP Connect, the company is currently going through a major range review which sees it moving to a one supplier/one brand approach. That supplier and brand is Pro Cuisine which itself is being relaunched with improved recipes and new packaging to give it a more premium feel in line with what consumers would get if they went into a supermarket.

This is all happening now (November) and the new-look range includes many new lines such as vegetarian penne nicoise, Chinese meal for two, chicken & blackbean sauce, and tuna pasta bake. Like Budgens, BP’s best sellers are the classic ready meals such as spaghetti bolognese and chilli con carne.

BP’s category manager for chilled foods, Sarah Hesford, says: “Our range covers all key cuisines so offers something for everyone. Our key customers are busy people in their 20s and 30s, living in one to two person households, looking for a quick and easy meal solution on their way home from work.”

Rustlers burgers have just been added to the range and BP expects these to be very popular.


Hesford says: “The ready-meal market in convenience/forecourt stores is still under-developed. Sales have historically been quite low and wastage quite high. Customer awareness of ready-meal ranges in this sector is low. However with the right range, pricing structure and promotional strategy, the potential is huge. These are all areas that BP is working on.”

You can’t talk about ready meals without mentioning pasta. According to Mintel, the UK’s pasta and pasta-based meals market was worth £610m in 2002. This figure broke down into pasta-based ready meals, chilled and frozen, worth £332m; dry pasta, £136m; fresh pasta, £112m; and dry recipe pasta, £30m.

It’s fresh pasta that’s outstripped the other sectors in terms of sales growth; up by almost 81 per cent between 1997 and 2002, compared to dry pasta’s 11 per cent rise and ready meals’ 18 per cent. And the fresh pasta market continues to grow. AC Nielsen figures for 52 w/e June 28, 2003, put the combined value of the fresh pasta and sauce market at over £150m.

Fresh pasta and sauce specialist Pasta Reale attributes this growth to improved product quality, continued new product development, effective merchandising and on-going trade and consumer promotions.

The company’s marketing and sales director Chris Redman explains: “Fresh pasta and sauces are an emerging force within chilled foods and the majority of people are still buying them on impulse. Consequently, product innovation, range refreshment and promotional support are vital to encourage current consumers to repeat purchase and to introduce first-time buyers.”

Putting its money where its mouth is, the company ran its biggest ever in-pack promotion this summer with all packs of Duetto and Ristorante and all filled products within the core range, featuring a free 20g sachet of fresh Italian castelli cheese. Pasta Reale plans to run similar promotions again next year.

The company’s product innovation is reflected in its pasta and sauce for one offer. The 350g product comes in two varieties: ham & cheese pasta with tomato & bacon sauce; and spinach & ricotta pasta with tomato & herb sauce. Rrp is £1.99.

Says Redman: “Pasta and sauce for one breaks new ground in the meal solutions market. It bridges the gap between ready to prepare ready meals and ready meals with all the natural, healthy benefits of fresh pasta and sauce.”

However it is filled fresh pasta that accounts for the largest part of the fresh pasta market. Chris Redman says filled pasta’s success lies in its convenience and versatility. “It’s a meal in its own right. It can be enjoyed tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with parmesan, with a ready-made or home-made sauce or can be baked in the oven.”

Pasta Reale prides itself on working closely with retailers to stimulate interest in the products at the point of purchase. Redman says the challenge for retailers is to make shopping the fresh pasta and sauces fixture as easy as possible particularly when you consider that it’s fresh pasta and established dry pasta brands that still introduce most consumers to the Italian meal market.

In the pasta and sauces market you can’t mention the phrase ‘established brands’ without mentioning Dolmio, which is the biggest Italian sauce brand, accounting for 39 per cent of all category sales.

According to IRI data the total cooking sauce market is worth £439m, with the average annual spend per person standing at nearly £25. Eighty five per cent of households regularly buy cooking sauces and two-person households account for over 35 per cent of all sales. Single households account for a quarter of all sales.

For forecourts the cooking sauce sales opportunity lies in driving convenience and distress purchases; stocking the big brands that hungry consumers will instinctively grab.

With Italian being the biggest selling sauce category it makes sense for forecourts to stock number one brand Dolmio. But not only is the product available in an array of flavours but also different pack formats.

Jars account for 85 per cent of sales so are a must-stock item, but pouches are growing fast and are particularly suited to the distress purchase of a meal in minutes. These pouches have only been available for three years yet already account for nine per cent of sales worth £40m.

Dolmio manufacturer Masterfoods recommends forecourts stock Dolmio Bolognese original in a jar plus pouches of pasta and sauce.