According to stats from Euromonitor, the UK spends £4.7bn on ready-to-eat convenience meals every year. In fact, the country is the biggest European market for prepared meals with a recorded market value of 775,000 tonnes in 2017.
Increasingly, these options are moving away from being just cheap, simple and microwavable. The adaptability of the ready meal has afforded companies a practically limitless scope for market entry, incorporating hot trends such as organic produce, sustainability and eco-friendliness alongside explorations of international cuisine.
Now, with the healthy-eating wave still far from breaking, the malleable category has the lifestyle market in its crosshairs.
Last month, sports nutrition and body building supplements brand Sci-Mx debuted four new ready meals into Tesco. Aimed at “health-conscious consumers and those who live an active lifestyle,” the chicken-based EatFit quartet marks the latest prepared meal release from a company orientated around fitness and balanced diet.
Sci-Mx’s entry – featuring pad Thai, Cajun, Korean and turmeric flavours – follows on from similar introductions into major supermarkets from Men’s Health Kitchen, Fit Kitchen and MuscleFood.
But how can these types of ready meals, with their “green lights” and connotations of general well-being, avoid being too ‘gym-y’ to attract those looking to simply eat better?
Chop and change
Design agency Brandon Consultants created the packaging for the new EatFit ready meal range. They believe that instead of displaying more sophisticated nutritional information, the appearance should depend on trends.
“It was a difficult process as we had to combine two category codes: easily digestible ready meal language and authoritative nutritional information,” Richard Taylor, managing partner at Brandon Consultants, tells Food Spark.
“Our research indicates that consumers only take in a maximum of three nutritional terms when browsing, which means it’s important to cycle through what’s trendy in terms of nutrition rather than overload the packaging with too much.”
Using that template, the company opted to place protein, carbs and 5-a-day front and centre on the pack, alongside the all-green traffic light rating.
“Protein is huge right now so that was a no-brainer,” explains Taylor. “The rise of veganism has only increased awareness of the need for regular protein, meat or otherwise – it’s very much in vogue in terms of dietary requirements.
Protein also appears as a secondary trio of nutritional points on the side of the packaging, along with “no refined sugar” and a “clean eating” promise.
“The UK is not quite on the same page in terms of carbs as places like the US and Australia,” adds Taylor. “Celebrity diets in America often revolve around low carb intake, but it’s not as prevalent here. The word ‘carb’ will always catch the eye, though.”
Taking a page out of health magazines
The name EatFit – printed in “go faster” italics – was chosen as it condenses the primary strategy of the range.
The visual style is designed to look a little like a page in a magazine, what with the evocative overhead photography and swathes of white space. But rather than attempting to mimic a spread from something like Men’s Health, Brandon Consultants wanted to keep it pared back.
“Sci-Mx are a sports nutrition brand so we had to be translate that image into an accessible, everyday product,” continues Taylor.
“The way to do that is to keep things simple and not to over-complicate. We didn’t really have a look at any of the direct competitors; we just focused on the product quality and the three standout nutritional points.”
The lifestyle ready meal isn’t just limited to retail. It’s also making strides in the meal delivery sector, with companies such as Fresh Fitness Food promising personalised ready meal plans for health and fitness goals.
Elsewhere, a number of are providing complete nutritional meals in a bottle, including British Huel, French Feed and American newcomer Soylent.
“An ever-growing number of consumers want to eat healthy,” notes Taylor, “and that is what EatFit, simply, offers.”