Supermarkets lack appetite for meat free ready meals

Only 3 per cent of offerings in major supermarkets contain no animal products whatsoever, while 77 per cent contain meat

Supermarket shelves with ready meals (Co-Op)

For all that supermarkets have been improving their meat free offerings in recent months, a new survey shows that they are lagging behind in an important aspect of the modern diet: ready meals.

Britons spent more than £4.7 billion a year on ready meals last year, so you would expect the increasing appetite for plant-based foods to be reflected in the offerings put out by the major retailers. But while the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s have been leading the charge in terms of meat alternatives – with the former stocking Vivera and Beyond Burger, and the latter Naturli – the ubiquitous microwaveable meal has been sorely overlooked.

The survey of 1,350 ready meals from 10 UK retailers was conducted by Eating Better, an alliance of more than 50 organisations and campaigns, including MFM, dedicated to promoting greener eating. It reveals that the vast majority – three-quarters (77 per cent) – of those ready meals are still meat-oriented, while only 3 per cent contained absolutely no animal products, whether meat, eggs or dairy. The 10 supermarkets were Asda, Aldi, Co-op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. Of those, the best-performing in the meat free stakes were the last three – Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – while the worst were Iceland (0 meat free ready meals) and M&S (1).

The findings show that the price of the vegetarian and vegan ready meals has been bumped up, potentially putting customers off from trying them. Not only that, but 90 per cent of the veggie ready meals on offer are cheese-based and higher in calories than even the meat-based meals.

According to Eating Better’s 2017 YouGov survey, almost half of Britons – 44 per cent – are either eating less meat or would be happy to cut down on their intake, with those aged 18 to 24 most aware of the damage being wrought to the planet by the meat and livestock industry, and more likely to eat accordingly.

“While there has been an explosion of interest in plant based eating and higher welfare meat, retailers are falling short on ready meals,” said Simon Billing, the executive director of Eating Better. “People want supermarkets to offer more meat-free ready meals or meals with less meat to help them reduce their meat consumption. Eating Better wants to see supermarkets increase their plant-based and healthier vegetarian ready meal offer.”

Read the report