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Frozen meal category challenged by health-focused Canadians

Mintel report shows Canucks buy frozen meals, but want additive-free varieties

Sales of Hungry-Man frozen dinners might be soaring in the U.S., but increased consumer demand for healthier, additive-free foods is challenging the frozen meal category in Canada, according to a new report from Mintel.

Despite concerns about their ingredients however, nearly three quarters (71%) of Canadians said they keep frozen ready-to-eat meals on hand for emergency situations.

Only 24% of Canadians said they prefer to eat ready-to-eat meals when there are other options available, while less than half (43%) said they are comfortable serving frozen meals to their family.

The study seems to suggest that Canadians have a love/hate relationship with ready-to-eat meals, with 86% of the population having consumed a ready-to-eat meal in the past six months despite misgivings that they contain too much sodium (67%) and are overly processed (63%).

The study suggests that food manufacturers could grow the frozen meal category by addressing consumer interest in foods that feature fewer preservatives and artificial ingredients (44%), as well as those featuring ethnic-inspired flavours (36%) and fewer calories (35%).

It also suggests that balancing consumer demands for fewer calories while providing a substantive offering will be a challenge for the category. Even though more than a third of Canadian consumers (35%) said they are interested in lower calorie options, 69% consider the size of the meal important (including 15% who said it is the most important factor).

Sixty seven per cent of respondents said the type of meat or protein in a ready-to-eat meal is important, with 15% describing it as the most important factor in their purchase decision. More than half (53%) of consumers said preparation time is key in product selection.

Nearly half of consumers (48%) opt for ready-to-eat meals when eating alone, while 36% eat them at family dinners and 34% eat them for lunch at home. Only 11% of Canadians eat ready-to-eat meals for breakfast.

Fathers are a key segment for frozen meal consumption, with 93% of Canadian dads admitting to eating them. Three quarters of fathers said they consume single-serve meals, with 31% identifying as being “heavy users” (compared with 21% of mothers). Sixty per cent of dads admitted to eating frozen meals “multiple times” per month – compared to just 39% of moms – while 54% indicated they're comfortable serving ready-to-eat meals to their families.

Joel Gregoire, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, called fathers a “bright spot” for the category, and said that companies could benefit by keeping them interested in products as they near and pass middle age.

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