While Canadians view frozen ready-to-eat meals as convenient options, perceptions that they are unhealthy have affected consumption habits. New research from Mintel reveals that usage seems to stem from “emergency” situations, as 71 percent of consumers keep frozen ready-to-eat meals on hand in case they need them despite ingredient concerns. This sentiment is highlighted as only 24 percent agree that they prefer to eat ready-to-eat meals when there are other options available and just 43 percent are comfortable serving ready-to-eat meals to their family.

Canadian consumers are reserving ready-to-eat meals for emergency situations as they move toward a healthier lifestyle. Despite nearly nine in 10 (86 percent) Canadian adults having consumed ready-to-eat meals in the past six months, two thirds (67 percent) believe ready-to-eat meals contain too much sodium and 63 percent agree that they are overly processed. Indeed, it seems consumers are demonstrating a demand for cleaner ingredients and more ‘authentic’ meal options. The top three traits of ready-to-eat meals consumers are interested in trying are meals with fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients (44 percent), meals that feature ethnic-inspired flavors (36 percent) and meals with fewer calories (35 percent).

“Canadians perceive ready-to-eat meals as an emergency food, primarily keeping them on-hand for convenience and instances when they do not have time to make dinner from scratch. With a small amount of Canadians preferring ready-to-eat meals when other options are available, consumer perceptions challenge the overall industry,” said Joel Gregoire, Senior Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel. “Perceptions, coupled with consumer interest in cleaner ingredients and low-calorie options, highlight some of the reasons why the category has struggled in recent years. These concerns need to be addressed by brands to stimulate growth in a stagnant category.”

69% of Canadians view the size of a frozen meal as an important purchasing factor

Size matters

More than a third of Canadian consumers (35 percent) are interested in trying lower calorie ready meal options, but when it comes to purchasing ready-to-eat meals, 69 percent view the size of the meal as important, including 15 percent who agree that it is their number-one factor. Some 67 percent of Canadians agree that the type of meat or protein in the meal is of importance, with 15 percent also saying it is the most important factor when purchasing. Further, 53 percent of consumers agree that the time it takes to prepare ready-to-eat meals is also important.

Size and protein factor in purchase intent for Canadians who may be looking to consume larger, more filling meals at dinner. Nearly half (48 percent) of the category’s consumers choose ready-to-eat meals when eating alone, with 36 percent eating them for family dinners and 34 percent for lunch at home. While showing popularity in the lunch and dinner dayparts, only 11 percent of Canadians consume ready-to-eat meals for breakfast.

Snacking opportunities for younger adults

Canadian consumers age 18-24 generate different consumption patterns than overall consumers. Specifically, younger adults tend to turn to ready-to-eat meals for a snack at much higher rates, with 20 percent eating them as a snack compared to 13 percent overall. Younger adults are also much more likely to turn to these meals for late night snacks (24 percent vs 13 percent overall) and are twice as likely to use them as a holdover until their next meal (18 percent vs 9 percent). Younger adults prefer the convenience of frozen ready-to-eat meals in the morning when they are limited on time, as 18 percent choose to eat them for breakfast, as opposed to just 11 percent of overall Canadian consumers.

While younger adults show the greatest preference for snacking on frozen ready-to-eat meals, 25-34 year olds represent the highest usage in the category with 90 percent consuming ready-to-eat meals in the past six months. Overall, 88 percent of under-45s eat ready-to-eat meals with numbers waning at middle-age, dropping down to 75 percent for those age 65 and older.

“An aging population challenges growth of ready and prepared meals, especially given the health concerns many consumers have expressed, including high sodium levels. Canadians age 65 and older are more likely to be more diet-focused as health concerns, such as sodium intake, become more prominent. In general, Canadians are displaying an overall desire to reduce the intake of processed foods, which consumers perceive as being less healthy and inferior in quality,” continued Gregoire. “These perceptions further help explain the category’s market performance, as retail value sales of ready and prepared meals is forecasted to remain relatively flat through 2019 as the population ages.”

Fathers feast on frozen meals

When compared to mothers and non-parents, fathers are much more likely to eat frozen meals. In fact, a full 93 percent of Canadian dads eat frozen meals. Three quarters (75 percent) of fathers consume single-serve ready-to-eat meals, as opposed to 59 percent of mothers, 53 percent of non-mothers and 55 percent of non-fathers. Canadian dads are also more likely to turn to frozen meals more frequently when looking for meal solutions, with 31 percent being heavy users of single-serve meals (vs 21 percent of mothers). Furthermore, 24 percent of fathers identify as heavy users of multi-serve meals. Overall, 60 percent of dads turn to frozen meals multiple times per month compared to just 39 percent of moms, and 54 percent indicated that they are more comfortable serving ready-to-eat meals to their families.

“With category usage dipping among older consumers, ready and prepared meals have a bright spot in fathers, who are core consumers of single- and multi-serve meals. Parents in general display higher consumption rates when compared to consumers without families, but with nine in 10 fathers eating frozen meals, the category could benefit if it keeps dads interested in products as they near and pass the middle-age life stage,” Gregoire concludes.

Press review copies of the Ready and Prepared Meals – Canada 2015 report and interviews with Joel Gregoire, Senior Food & Drink Analyst, are available on request from the press office.

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