Commentary: Trends shaping cooking ingredients and meals include plant-based options, health features, premiumization and sustainability; consumer demand expected for affordable solutions, bulk offers, private label diversity and higher quality

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May 21, 2024 (press release) –

2023 was another challenging year for cooking ingredients and meals globally. Inflation and rising commodity prices continued well into the year, driving value sales of cooking ingredients and meals to increase by 4.4% in current terms and 1.4% in constant terms as unit price increases were driven by skyrocketing commodity prices. Consumers across markets became more frugal when shopping for essential goods, and cut back on splurging. Some switched from foodservice to ready meals to save money, while others turned to promotions, discounters and private label to cut spending on items for home-cooked recipes.

Despite this economising trend, premium products also succeeded in the market, particularly in ready meals and sauces. This trend underscores the increasing polarisation observed among consumer groups who want to avoid restaurant cost but enjoy premium products while others search for affordable deals. Demand for healthier options is on the rise, too. Sugar reduction, high fibre, high protein and lactose free options are growing in more indulgent categories like sweet spreads and sauces, dips and condiments categories.

A slow recovery is expected in future; however, food supply instability and continuing cost-of-living pressures will hinder sales growth.

Plant-based options are growing

Historically, plant-based options were scarce across cooking ingredients and meals categories but over the last few years have been expanding in many markets. Trust in labels like “vegan” has grown significantly over that period as exposure has increased. Meals and soups has led the growth in plant-focused dietary claims but other categories like sauces, dips and condiments have the highest number of products featuring a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based claim.

While plant-focused diets are gaining popularity, products with such claims have low penetration, leaving room for new entries focusing on familiar tastes and ease of use.

Health features are pivotal, even in indulgence

Demand for cooking ingredients and meals with more nutritious ingredients continues to rise. Health claims linked to reduced sugar, gluten-free and lactose-free options have experienced substantial growth. In the case of sweet spreads, which are often seen as unhealthy, demand for lower sugar content and added fibre or protein has significantly increased. In the five years to 2023, reduced sugar claims rose by 53% globally and the trend is expected to continue. Permissible indulgence will drive the development of product variations with improved recipes and catering to various dietary needs. Alongside sugar reduction, other diet and improved nutrition claims are expected to pick up too, as consumers seek out food options to meet their needs.

Consumers still seek premiumisation  

Over 2022-2023, global economies went through turbulent times, with many households having to cut their expenditure on non-essential items. Despite the cost-of-living crisis, premiumisation continues to rise, as many consumers still want high-quality, gourmet products that also provide the convenience of easy meal preparation. Focusing on improving the overall experience of products like ready meals or sauces will remain important.

Consumers are most willing to pay more for health and nutritional properties, followed by superior taste

Source: Euromonitor International’s Voice of the Consumer: Health and Nutrition survey (fielded January to February 2023 or 2024)

Sustainability gaining importance, with claims becoming more diverse  

Many consumers are increasingly focused on sustainability and their impact on the environment. Organic has been at the forefront of providing a “greener” choice when shopping, but other sustainable sourcing claims are gaining interest too. Sauces, dips and condiments has seen a significant boost in responsible marine sourcing labels, with a 72% increase in SKUs with that claim over 2019-2023. The cooking ingredients and meals industry, with its diverse product range and wide variety of ingredient sources, is expected to see a rise in products with sustainable sourcing claims focusing not only on agriculture but also fisheries, forestry and packaging.

New retail solutions are gaining attention

New retail solutions are taking ready meal convenience to the next level. After the online sales boom over the pandemic, consumers are returning to in-person shopping, craving to see products before buying and not wait for delivery or pay delivery services. Choice, convenience and advice from staff are becoming more important for consumers, thus pure ready meal stores can provide this, while also gathering feedback direct from consumers.

A good example of this trend stems from convenient access playing a pivotal role for workers with unconventional working hours. Shift workers often have limited food choices, thus new concept vending machines are a promising way to expand purchasing occasions for ready meals. More retail solutions offering convenience are expected to be seen over the forecast period.

Cooking ingredients and meals industry to remain dynamic despite modest sales development

Cooking ingredients and meals may seem to enter a period of relative stability in the forecast period, yet changes within various categories are underway. The search for affordable solutions will create a demand for bulk offers and private label diversity. At the same time, demand for higher quality and improved product experience will be on the rise. In the post-pandemic reality, consumers will seek out healthier options for their dietary needs as well as products that elevate at-home dining. Market players should remain vigilant to meet changing consumer demands and investigate various shopping channels to optimise sales opportunities.

For further analysis on these trends, please see Euromonitor International’s report, World Market for Cooking Ingredients and Meals.

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Jason Irving
Jason Irving
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