Ready Meals – ready in minutes, but not ready for the future

By : Eating Better
Jul 9, 2018

We Brits love convenience and nothing is more convenient than a ready meal. In fact, we spent £4.7 billion in 2017 on this food category making the UK the biggest ready meal market in Europe. Our latest survey of ready meals in the top UK supermarkets shows that they aren’t serving the demand for healthier plant-based options, and the meat used as an ingredient in ready meals is falling short on animal welfare and provenance.

Despite interest in meat reduction, we found that meat still dominates the ready meal aisles. Meat is the main ingredient in three out of four of the 1,350 different ready meals we surveyed from 10 retailers (Asda, Aldi, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose). 

We struggled to find ready meals that were good for you or the planet. Overall only 3% of ready meals were plant-based (without meat, fish, dairy or egg). No plant-based options were found in Iceland and only one in M&S. The survey showed that some retailers are selling vegetarian and vegan ranges at a premium price, making these options less accessible for shoppers.

Choosing a vegetarian ready meal is not necessarily the healthy option, 90% of the vegetarian ready meals were cheese-based. We found that higher calorie meals tended to be those containing cheese in either meat, fish or vegetarian options. Cheese has a relatively high GHG intensity (8-10 times that of milk, depending on the hardness of the cheese) meaning that cheese can have a higher impact (per kilogram) than pork.

We found that the large proportion of ready meal buyers who are interested in meat with clear provenance and that meets higher animal welfare standards are also left with little choice.

Startlingly, only three retailers (M&S, Waitrose and Co-op) include ingredient meat sourced for their own-brand ready meals in their farm animal welfare policies. While retailers are generally keen to promote the provenance and animal welfare standards of their fresh meat, the research found that this didn’t apply to meat used as an ingredient in ready meals. Nearly 30% of meat-based ready meals did not indicate the country of origin of their meat.

Eating Better wants to see supermarkets improve their ready meal range, by:

  • increasing their plant based and healthier vegetarian ready meal offer
  • clearly labelling the provenance of meat and dairy used
  • using meat and dairy that meets higher animal welfare and environmental standards

Download the full report.

Read Eating Better’s press release.

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