Not everyone plans their weekly meals. Busy mums on tight schedules might have to, but the rest of us probably make up our menus as we go along. And that’s good news for forecourt retailers who can cash in on customers who are shopping for ’tonight’s dinner’.

Spar has already cottoned onto the opportunity with a range of ready meals called Autumn Favourites complete with point-of-sale material which it hopes will turn its store into ’the destination of choice for tonight’s tea’. The symbol group’s commitment to the ready meals market is cemented further by its partnership with celebrity chef Lesley Waters. She has developed several recipes for Spar - including spicy prawn spaghetti - and appears on-pack, in point-of-sale material and in advertorials in women’s magazines. This is the first time a celebrity chef has been used to support the Spar brand and the group says it’s proving to be a great success.

Other Spar meal offers include the Treat Yourself range of premium lines which has beef & ale casserole, Aberdeen Angus cottage pie and lasagne; and the Mini Classics range of meals for one including cauliflower cheese with sautéed potatoes, minced beef hotpot and bolognese pasta bake.

Suzanne McFarlin, customer marketing manager for Mars Foods, believes there’s definitely an opportunity for forecourts to boost their dinner sales: "The role of the petrol station is to offer the last resort meal when time is of the essence, for example, on the way home from work. The forecourt retailer experience shouldn’t involve queuing or lengthy decision making, but instead offer simple dinner solutions. Impulse shopping is crucial in this category as consumers seek quick, convenient meal solutions that can be picked up and enjoyed by the whole family.

"Through ensuring that major brands are included in prime locations, forecourt retailers can cater for the needs of the consumer and offer quick and easy solutions that taste great."

One product that definitely makes a quick and easy meal is Dolmio, which boasts being the UK’s number one Italian wet cooking sauce brand, worth £176,000 through managed petrol forecourts, according to IRI data. Dolmio original bolognese 500g is the leading line, worth £87,516.

McFarlin believes the relaunch, which saw the introduction of the ’best ever tasting’ bolognese range earlier this year, will drive sales still further. "The new sauces offer the first ever ’kitchen cupboard’ ingredients recipes and a great authentic home made taste. Containing only ’100% good honest ingredients that can be found in any kitchen cupboard’ each recipe contains three times more tomato chunks than before and 10 juicy tomatoes in each jar."

However, if original Dolmio is not quick enough for some consumers then the Dolmio Express sauce in single-serve pouches which, when combined with Dolmio Express pasta pouches provides a meal in just two minutes is probably a better bet.

Another quick microwave meal component is Uncle Ben’s Express rice which had two new variants added in the summer: spicy Mexican and wholegrain & Mediterranean vegetables. Also new is the Uncle Ben’s microwavable risotto range in three flavours: tomato & Italian herb, bacon & mushroom and chicken & mushroom. McFarlin says with the risotto Uncle Ben’s is trying to satisfy those consumers who are looking for a more premium, but still convenient, rice meal.

One product that always makes a quick and easy meal, especially at this time of year when consumers want something hot, is soup.

Premier Foods has recently launched Batchelors Soupfulls, a five-strong range of quality soups designed to be eaten as healthy light meals. The varieties are: classic beef & vegetable, chicken & country vegetable, Tuscan tomato & pasta, creamy chicken potato & mushroom and Mediterranean tomato & vegetable. All are naturally low in fat and do not contain added MSG, preservatives or artificial colours. They are packed in foil pouches for added freshness.

Stefan Kerridge, Batchelors marketing controller at Premier Foods, comments: "Our research revealed that a key motivation for choosing ambient soups is their convenience, while health is the key motivator for choosing fresh products. Soupfulls are made using the freshest ingredients, with a high vegetable or meat content depending on the recipe and because we don’t use artificial colours or preservatives, they are a healthy alternative to many other light meals and snacks."

Premier Foods’ research also found that compared to ambient soup, fresh products tend to be eaten more as evening meals because they’re seen more as a complete meal solution rather than just as a snack.

Kerridge reckons the soups will appeal to three types of consumer. There are the ’premium healthies’, who are upmarket, 45 years plus, who enjoy soup as an evening meal but don’t like canned products. Then there are the ’healthy/diet soupers’ who are ABC1 women aged between 25 and 64 years, who are health conscious, take regular exercise and will eat quality soup as an evening meal plus they are willing to pay more for perceived health, quality benefits. Finally there are the ’family go-getters’, the ABC1 males aged between 17 and 34 who are career driven but with young families. They have little spare time and like to eat soup as a light meal.

Premier Foods reports that Soupfulls is already doing well in Ireland, where it is driving the revival of the wet, ambient soup market and where repeat purchase is strong.

Meanwhile Heinz has been busy shaking up its soup offer with the launch of three new ranges.

The company says its new Taste of Home product bridges the gap between traditional soup and a more sustaining main meal.

The rich, hearty recipes have been inspired by classic homemade stews and casseroles. Available in handy single-serve microwavable pots, there are four varieties: beef stew & dumplings, chicken & vegetable casserole, country vegetable casserole and Lancashire lamb hotpot.

Then there’s Farmers’ Market which, as the name suggests, is inspired by traditional farmers’ markets and taps into consumer desire for wholesome, hearty food.

The four-strong range has been launched into both the ambient and chilled arenas in a bid to develop and grow the total soup market. The varieties are three bean & smoked bacon; chicken & country vegetable; woodland mushroom and slow cooked lamb & root vegetable. Portion size is 515g, which is larger than traditional soups because the products are being marketed as a substantial meal.

The final new soup range is Heinz Soups of the World, inspired by popular dishes from countries including Italy, Morocco and Mexico. The line-up comprises: Italian minestrone; Moroccan lamb with chick pea & cous cous; Indian mild chicken curry; and Mexican chilli beef & bean. Larger 515g portions are again offered to encourage consumers to see the soups as a tasty option for dinner.


=== side orders ===

? Richmond Sausages has linked with the NSPCC and its sister organisation Children 1st in Scotland, to create ’Smile & Win’ - an on-pack text-to-win competition, in which all proceeds will be donated to the charities. Promotional packs give consumers the chance to win shopping sprees at Toys R Us plus everyone who texts in will receive exclusive NSPCC/Children 1st wallpaper for their mobile phone. Richmond will select one winner every day for 105 days and for every text received the company will donate, on average, 90p to the charities.

? The Big Prawn Company has launched Seafood Sensations, three 150g two-portion meals: moules mariniere, scallops in garlic butter and king prawns in garlic butter. They come in microwavable packs with a steam release valve to let consumers know when they are cooked. Recommended retail price is from £1.99-£4.29 and they have a minimum 14 day shelf life.

? The Loyd Grossman ’Taste is Everything’ campaign has gone live with a national sampling campaign. Activity is centred on mainline train stations in London, Brighton and Manchester, where commuters are being given samples of Loyd Grossman sauces, recipe booklets and money-off coupons. This will be followed by in-store sampling in the grocery multiples and a door-drop coupon campaign to 360,000 households.

? Premier Foods has launched a new range of Thai products under its Sharwood’s brand. Products include sweet chilli & lemongrass, kaffir lime & coriander, and oyster & Thai basil stir fry sauces as well as red, green, yellow and mussaman curry sauces. Also new is a one-shot Thai curry paste in red and green variants. The launch is supported by a £3m spend including TV advertising and sampling.