Convenience foods: serving consumer demands for efficiency
Convenience and ready-to-go foods save time and energy and can be broken down into frozen foods, canned foods, ready-to-eat snacks, meals, chilled foods and more.
According to new research from IGD, the UK food-to-go sector is predicted to be worth £23.4 billion by 2024, with a growth rate double that of the total food and grocery market. With an increase in consumers who eat on the go, we are beginning to see a rise in societal demand for products and services that both deliver quickly and make life easier.
Ease of use, high nutritional value, functionality and quick delivery are just a few of the many attributes consumers look for in convenience foods, meaning that companies are having to develop increasingly innovative and creative ideas to meet this demand.
Here is a breakdown of five major factors fuelling growth of the ready-to-eat market.
Today’s consumers are demonstrating an increasing demand for products that are more nutritious, customisable and natural, without compromising on health goals, flavours or ingredients. Most importantly, such products must help people maintain pace in their busy schedules. It is clear that manufacturers and retailers need to tap even further into an audience who are increasingly pressed for time, yet hold high expectations of food quality, flavours and formats.
Millennials and those within the iGeneration are driving the opening for high-quality products through their interest in food, yet they may lack equipment, skills or time that are displayed in online demonstrations. This creates a market for more premium convenience and ready-to-go foods designed for those who consider themselves as ‘foodies.’
The emergence of more premium convenience products is evident already, from world cuisine influenced ready-meals, to pre-made charcuterie boards, to deli-style snacks. Such high levels of innovation indicates consumers’ desire for experimental food with the impression that the product isn’t mass-produced, even if it is. Dietary trends including vegan, gluten-free and paleo are all represented on supermarkets’ convenience shelves. As consumers have an abundance of on-demand options across many aspects of their lives, it is obvious that a more diverse array of upgraded convenience food and drink products is essential.
The Packaged Facts Report noted that whilst consumers look for portable and easy-to-prepare foods, they also show interest in more healthy products; specifically those that are organic, natural and without additives. It is clear that consumers consider health to be a key determiner when making food choices. Pauline Cox, founder of Sow and Arrow, said: “Delicious meets nutritious – not only functional, but healthy too. Consumers want to know the health benefits of their food.”
According to the Global Convenience Foods Market 2020, there is an increasing trend in health convenience foods that have high levels of proteins, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and functional fibres. There is a high demand for products with both a health benefit and elevated convenience, such as Huel’s high-protein snack bars, Pact’s probiotic snack bites and Harmless Harvest’s protein-based snack drinks.
Awareness surrounding the importance of healthy eating is rising, driving food-to-go services to provide healthier options across their menus. Food and drink manufacturers and retailers need to fulfill consumers’ needs for products that don’t sacrifice health goals but fit in with busy schedules.
In the past, snacking has often had an indulgent and sometimes unhealthy reputation. However, snacking trends are changing. Consumers are increasingly looking for snacks that are not only convenient, but incorporate other functions such as high protein and healthier eating. Michelle Buffardi, VP of digital editorial at Food Network said: “The future of snacking is not simply a quest for ‘healthier’ foods, but also plant-forward, delicious and convenient products.” Consumers strive to achieve the right balance between enjoyment, health and convenience.
There has been a noteworthy rise in the number of snacks that are labelled as ‘sugar-free’, ‘low sugar’ or ‘no added sugar.’ Dried fruit and natural sweeteners are becoming increasingly common in snacks, with brands such as Metcalfe’s, Lily’s Sweets and Bare Snacks exploiting such trends.
Mintel’s Snacking Motivations and Attitudes 2019 report found that 95% of American adults snack at least once a day, with 70% found to snack more than twice a day. Eating multiple snacks daily is well suited to consumers with busy lifestyles. They don’t need to spend time planning and cooking a meal, but can grab and go.
With a rise in the number of consumers who eat on the go, and technology ever-evolving, convenience eating is changing. Consumers demand products and services that deliver quickly, save time and allow for personalisation.
Technology, such as apps that facilitate ordering and food-to-go vending stations, are key examples of services that fulfill consumers’ need for convenience. Selecta recently introduced their Foodie’s MicroMarket – an unattended self-service market aimed at those looking for more flexible snack and meal options.
Food delivery, however, is the primary driver of growth in the foodservice market and is predicted to be worth £9.8 billion by 2021. Just Eat, Uber Eats and Deliveroo are some of the most popular delivery services used in the UK and US.
A recent report by Deloitte found that one-third of Western consumers are now using a meal delivery service, and 7% get a meal delivered once a week.
“The future of food will increasingly revolve around technology in an effort to address the need for convenience,” said Christine Marcus, Alchemista’s CEO.
Today’s on-the-go consumers are looking for dinner-time solutions more often than ever as meal consumption behaviour amongst consumers is shifting. Whilst individuals are increasingly lacking time to cook in the home, more consumers are willing to spend money on convenient foods.
This is not only reflected in food delivery, but in the large increase in sales of meal-kits and recipe boxes for home use. It seems like the range of options for healthy eating and convenience is growing rapidly. Purple Carrot, Gousto and Hello Fresh are just a few examples of companies practising such recipe kit services. Not only do they provide inspiration, spare a trip to the shops and prevent food wastage, they are also exceptionally convenient, with the ingredients delivered directly to the consumers’ door. It is clear this sector is booming – Anna Greene, brand director of Gousto, said their sales had grown by 70% in the past year and are now delivering 2.5 million meals per month.
Meal replacement products are another way on-the-go consumers can achieve convenience and high nutritional content, whilst maintaining specific dietary choices. A recent report by Mordor Intelligence, 2019, found the US to be the leading market for meal replacement products with a projected CAGR of 7.1% by 2024. Products such as Soylent’s meal replacement drink and Probar’s meal on-the-go bars provide ready-to-eat meal replacements for the consumers who are strapped for time.