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Prepared meals in APAC now forecasted to reach US$36,086 mn by 2023
Wednesday, 16 September, 2020, 15 : 00 PM [IST]
Shagun Sachdeva
Indian cooking styles have undergone considerable advancement over the past few years owing to the advent of modern technology and several other changes such as affluence of working population along with millennial and rise of nuclear families.

Urbanisation and the emergence of new family structures are shaping a more time-pressed lifestyle, especially in regions such as Asia Pacific (APAC). Reducing mealtime may not seem worthwhile to consumers who treasure mealtime socialisation and leisure.

Therefore, shortening time spent on food preparation, however, has wider appeal across the region. Consumers across APAC prefer less time-consuming food preparation options, such as prepared ready-to-eat (RTE) food.

Prepared meal industry
At the start of 2020, we highlighted that the prepared meal industry has massive growth potential and would reach a wider net of consumers. In the pre-Covid times, the global prepared meals sector was valued at US$90,690.3 million in 2018 and was forecasted to record a CAGR of 4% during 2018–2023, to reach US$110,165 million by 2023.

Asia-Pacific is the largest prepared meals sector, accounting for a 32.5% share of the global market, and was valued at US$29,440.5 million in 2018. It was forecasted to reach US$38,383.9 million by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 5.4% during 2018–2023. Rising disposable incomes and the increasing demand for convenient food options kept spurring the demand for prepared mealsin the region.

Of all the categories, ready meals were the largest in the region, with value sales of US$22,631.5 million in 2018. The category was forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 5.6%, to reach US$29,667.6 million by 2023.
The Indian ready-to-eat food market stood at $34.3 million in 2018 and was projected to grow at a CAGR of over 10.7% during 2018-2023 to reach $63.2 million by 2023.The rise in the consumer demand for ready-to-eat food products kept intriguing brands to foray this whitespace, which would contribute to the growth of the market.

Growth in the Indian ready-to-eat market
Furthermore, innovation in products offerings, sustainable packaging, preference of single serving frozen products, aggressive marketing and promotional strategies would also steer growth in the Indian ready-to-eat market during the forecast period.

Fast forward a few months when the world is facing a new set of circumstances; the catastrophic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed consumers’ priorities, their spending habits and ability to maintain certain commitments. The disruption to day-to-day life has impacted how consumers’ prioritise wellness and safety, forcing companies and brands to reevaluate their approach and retool their portfolio.

In the wake of Covid pandemic, the global slowdown in consumer goods will see a predicted net loss of market value of US$354bn in 2020, when new Covid-19 “slowdown” forecasts are compared to original baseline forecasts.

Asia is the biggest regional loser in terms of absolute value, as well as percentage decline in 2020 (slowdown vs. baseline forecasts) due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The food and household products are the only industries that are expected to record growth during the forecast period. In market value terms, these industries are forecast to grow by US$111.4bn and US$16.9bn respectively, in 2020 vs. the 2020 baseline forecast.

US$36,086 million by 2023
According to GlobalData’s Covid-19 adjusted forecast, the prepared meals in APAC is now forecasted to reach US$36,086 million by 2023, while in India, the prepared meal category is forecasted to be value at US$61.79 million by 2023 against the baseline of US$64.21 in 2023.
India has witnessed massive growth in the prepared (on-the-go) meals and lunch-time deal offerings in the recent past. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent extension of countrywide lockdown, consumers have gone back to the traditional home cooking trends.

GlobalData found that only 26% are purchasing more or stockpiling prepared meals during the current lockdown; conversely, this rate stood at 45% for fresh products such as fruit and vegetables in week 10, as against 23% and 46% respectively in week 1. Unlike some Western countries, which are witnessing a renaissance in the home cooking trends, this is already heavily ingrained in Indian culture and everyday lifestyles and is further spurred by the current housebound living.

This clearly signifies tough scenario for ready meal brands in India, which were only beginning to surface as a popular and convenient option. Customisable products that allow consumers to easily recreate unique and challenging recipes could help brands to tap into current home cooking trends.

India consumers are also most alert when it comes to how their products are packed and stored, with 42% strongly agreeing that they are concerned about the safety of the packaging of their products, in contrast to only 19% of global average. This highlights the need for prepared meals manufacturers to incorporate safe practices and guides on how to best open and use their product when at home, as well as how to discard the packaging after use, in order to put consumers’ minds at ease.

Players and brands
Indian prepared meals market consists of leading players such as MTR Foods Pvt Ltd., Haldiram and Gits Food Products Pvt. Ltd. Recently, Nestle had expanded its offering in the RTE segment with the launch of Maggi Ghee Tadka Upma Express and Maggi Masala Onion Poha Express. Other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies such as Britannia, Marico and PepsiCo are already scrabbling for larger share of the breakfast segment and offering more options to meet the rising demand for quick-fix food in India. In addition, Haldiram Snacks had launched ‘Trumillets’ that includes a wide range of RTE products like dosa, Idly, Upma, Kheer and Smoothies.

Growing nutritional concerns, especially excessive consumption of carbohydrates, salt and gluten, have combined to negatively affect the prepared meal sector in the country. Therefore, more consumers are now gradually shifting away from frozen or ready-to-eat meals to freshly prepared meals. This is in line with 70% Indian consumers who would like health and wellbeing information from brands, according to GlobalData Coronavirus (Covid-19) Consumer Survey – Week 10.
Although, brands have begun to capitalise on this opportunity with low-carb prepared meals to cater to the health-conscious consumers, this still remains niche and is yet to reach the masses.

‘On-the-go’ quick lifestyles
Product choices prior to Covid-19 were often shaped by the demand of ‘on-the-go’ quick lifestyles, which is no longer applicable as consumers are in lockdown. With self-isolation changing the dynamics of food for the consumers, brands are on the constant look-out for new ways to meet the personalised health consumer demands.

At this juncture, brands need to focus on value and explore new channels of distribution. As consumers are trying to restrict contact with others as much as possible and embracing home-life and new activities, life under quarantine has created new scenarios for brands to offer value to their customers.

Due to the uncertain economic environment and supply chain disruption due to Covid-19, many consumers initially bought food out of panic. Consumers have essentially moved from a ‘just-in-time’, ‘on-the-go’ model to a ‘just-in-case’ stockpiling model. This means that value, rather than premiumisation, is the current key priority for consumers. Special offers, gift cards, or loyalty programmes by brands are a straightforward way to court this consumer desire.

Covid-19 has also pushed some brands to diversify their audience channels and learn to sell directly to their consumers online. This shifting focus birthed by lockdowns in India will continue, further encouraging brands to look at the realignment of sales channels.

Manufacturers are focussing on online marketing, targeting, deals, and delivery. They are well aware that e-commerce should be the number-one priority for securing regular payments and deliveries on proprietary websites and third-party platforms makes it easier for the isolated customers to buy more and conveniently. Along with e-commerce, brands are also considering subscription-based models to maintain steady sales during the pandemic.

The online platforms, at the same time, quickly started re-designing their strategies and adopted innovative solutions to overcome challenges and drive their businesses. Ready-to-eat food e-retailer, iD Fresh, for instance, tackled the issue of long queues at its physical stores, and frequent stock outs with an ‘online store finder’ application. This app enables customers to plan their store visits by running a search online for stores that are open, check product availability and fresh arrivals.

So far, we have reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the sector and the market participants are anticipating health-driven innovations and gearing up for a bigger and brighter future ahead. When the crisis wraps, we can expect to see a new generation of consumers, ecosystems, new rules, products and experiences.

(The author is Consumer Insight Analyst at Global Data. She can be contacted at

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