'Meal in a box' worth pounds 1m a day

Feeding time: France loses culinary face while Britons head for the chill cabinet
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The Independent Online
Britons are spending pounds 1m a day on pre-cooked dinners and meals- for-one because they are too busy or too lonely to cook, according to industry analysts, writes Louise Jury.

Rocketing divorce figures, more working women, and increasingly hectic lifestyles have prompted a boom in the ready-meals business.

Datamonitor, which analyses the sector, said it expected figures to show a 10-per-cent increase in the last year over pounds 323m sales of chilled meals in 1994.

The increase is a clear indicator of social change. A spokeswoman for Datamonitor said: "People who live on their own do not want to spend hours cooking a full meal for just one person. There is more variety too on the ready-meal shelves. Italian dishes were always popular but, now, so are Indian, Chinese and Mexican."

The British, she added, are becoming more adventurous in their tastes and would buy foods tried on foreign holidays if they did not have time to cook.

International cuisine accounts for 4 in 10 ready-made meals while traditional fare, such as steak and kidney pie, has dropped from a quarter of the market five years ago to 17 per cent. One in eight meals is vegetarian.

Marks & Spencer dominates sales, providing more than half of the pre- cooked dinners and meals-for-one bought in Britain, even though only 2 per cent of the population does its weekly regular grocery shopping at the store. Sainsbury sells 17 per cent of the total, and Tesco 12 per cent.

"People are switching to ready meals as they are more convenient," the analysts' spokeswoman said. "Working women have less time to prepare a meal and ... chilled ready meals are proving to be the perfect caterer for a dining-in occasion."