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The US has not only the largest ready meal market in the world in value terms, reflecting both population size and the highly developed state of the processed and convenience-foods market, but also one of the highest per-capita consumption levels, at more than 22 pounds.
Convenience obviously continues to be the key platform, used by 80% of ready-meals launches recorded in the 12 months to the end of June, yet nearly 38% of launches also used a health positioning of some kind.
Particularly common were passive health claims (i.e., "food minus"), such as low-calorie, natural, organic, etc., but also more active claims, such as vitamin- and mineral-fortified, added-calcium or with omega-3/DHA, or perhaps offering specific health benefits such as immune health, heart health, digestive health, etc.
In recent years, Nestlé has become the leader in the US ready meal market with a 19% value share. Sales of Nestlé's ready meals increased by 57%, leapfrogging rival ConAgra Foods in terms of sales for the first time.
However, it is important to note that this growth was due to the acquisition of Kraft Foods's frozen pizza division. The company still needs to focus on the organic growth of its own brands in order to prevent sliding from the top spot.
Contemporary American children are mimicking the busy lifestyles of their elders by engaging themselves in many after-school and weekend activities. As a result, children often eat at different times from their parents.
Consequently, more parents are encouraging their children to eat ready meals instead of taking the time to cook another meal for their offspring. As a result, microwaveable ready meals have become an appealing option for US parents.
Americans are slowly regaining their confidence in the economic environment, as the country was declared out of recession in late 2010. Retail volume sales of ready meals are expected to decline by 1% as consumers return to eating out at restaurants and other foodservice locations.
However, the threat of a double-dip recession is very high and the return to on-trade dining is going to be at a slow rate. Thus, US sales of ready meals are not expected to incur a steep decline, as ready meals remain very convenient for Americans who eat at home.
For more information on the US ready meal market, see the latest research: US Ready Meal Market
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