Ready meal aisles still dominated by meat, finds survey

Most ready meals are still dominated by meat, according to new research on Monday which claims the UK’s biggest supermarkets are failing to cater for soaring numbers of so-called flexitarians seeking to reduce their meat consumption.

A survey published by Eating Better, an alliance of more than 50 health and animal welfare organisations, says despite the rapid growth of interest in plant-based eating, supermarkets are failing to give enough choice or variety in their ready-meal ranges. The few vegetarian and vegan products on sale are also typically offered at premium prices, the survey found, making these options “less accessible” to all customers.

Analysis of 1,350 own-brand and branded ready meals from the top 10 biggest UK supermarkets also found that while meat still dominated the ready-meal aisles, provenance and welfare standards were not always made clear on labelling.

Meat was the main ingredient in three out of four of the 1,350 different own-brand and branded ready meals surveyed and on sale in Asda, Aldi, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

The research was carried out between April and May, and covered only hot main meals and not salads, sides or single products like burgers.

Overall, only 3% of ready meals were plant-based choices (without meat, fish, dairy or egg) with Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s offering the largest number of choices. No plant-based options were found in Iceland and only one, a Thai green curry, on the shelves at M&S.

As more people drop meat from their diet, the survey says supermarkets are failing to cater for the UK’s estimated 22 million “flexitarians”, who want to reduce their meat consumption for health or ethical reasons.

Among the alliance’s more high-profile members are Compassion in World Farming, the Food Ethics Council and Consensus Action on Salt and Health.

It said only three retailers, M&S, Waitrose and the Co-op, include meat sourced for their own-brand ready meals in their farm animal welfare policies. Nearly 30% of meat-based ready meals did not indicate the country of origin of their meat, and the Co-op and Waitrose were the only retailers found to use British meat in all their own-brand ready meals.

Neil Nugent, the head chef at Iceland, commented: “We have a number of ready meals of which the recipes are vegan, however we can’t currently guarantee these are suitable for vegans as there aren’t many pure vegan manufacturers at the moment. We are working closely with suppliers on this and creating a new policy for vegan products.”

M&S disputed the findings and said it had “numerous” meals in its vegan and vegetarian ranges, which were widely available and proving popular.


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