November 8, 2005


Food retailers slow to acknowledge growing niche of one-person households

A story published today in "Food and Drink Europe" says that food retailers are failing to attract 18-25 year olds and over-55’s to the single-serve dinner market, as a UK think tank predicts 35 per cent of the British population will live alone by 2021.

The report, by the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Unilever, identifies a shift in living habits that retailers should acknowledge to meet the needs of single-person households.

This Europe-wide trend could see demand for convenience food soar – but only if food retailers can provide a range of pre-prepared meal options that cater for single people of all age groups.  A similar rise in one-person households is occurring in the United States.

Presently retailers and meal-for-one manufacturers concentrate on the 25-44 year old age group - missing out on the lucrative 18-24 and over 55’s categories.

“Most ready meals are targeted at the 25-44 year old market, and retailers are doing a good job at that, as seen in increased sales,” said data analyst Daniel Bone, of Datamonitor.

“But now the market is becoming saturated it’s not about getting those 25-44 year olds to consume more – it’s about attracting new customers.”

The 18-24 year old market remains the most underdeveloped as retailers presume this sector contains mainly students and lower income earners looking for budget meal options.

But Bone explained this might not be an accurate evaluation of the market: “Economy brands are targeted at students and young people, but our research suggests that this may not be what they want.”

Another missed category - the elderly market - may also respond to specific targeting.

In the UK this group, classed as those over 55, accounts for 26.5 per cent of the total consumption value of ready meals, in France they account for 25.2 per cent and in Germany 27.4 per cent.

“The elderly market is untapped, even though they are a group likely to embrace meal-for-one solutions,” said Bone.

“There are an increasing number of elderly people living alone, and when they get older their appetites and calorific needs decline, so they look for smaller size meals.”

“But the biggest barrier for ready-meal makers targeting this category is that they are perceived to be bad for you.”

Many consumers still believe pre-packaged meals are lower in vitamins and minerals and higher in fat and salt than home-cooked alternatives.

Supermarkets have been competing in this niche for some time through direct competition ranges like Sainburys Be Good To Yourself and Asda’s Good For You label.

But Marks and Spencers have taken the healthy ready meal concept a step further with its chilled Eat Well range of well-balanced dinners that do not contain artificial flavourings, colourings or sweetners.

Frozen foods giant Unilever said it was too early to determine how the IPPR research will affect it’s future marketing strategy, but the September relaunch of the Birds Eye SteamFresh range has targeted single householders looking for healthy convenience food.

“Our steamed vegetable range will appeal to single livers because rather than having one vegetable you get a selection, and these come in one-portion packs that we think will benefit those living alone,” he said.

Currently 24 per cent of all UK chilled soup sales and 18 per cent of ready meals sales are to single-person households.

And shoppers looking for late night convenience options are swelling the British convenience market, which is valued at £23.9 billion, an increase of 4.9 per cent since 2004, according to the IGD.