Changing consumer demand is driving Saudi’s ready meals market

01 March 2022 3 min. read

Saudi Arabians are increasingly turning to ready meals – pre-cooked meals that can be prepared quickly and conveniently. Estimated today at around SAR 320 million, the market for ready meal sales is predicted to grow by SAR 12 billion in the coming two years, according to analysis by Glasgow Consulting Group.

In a new report, the research and management consultancy explored the state of the ready meals market in the Kingdom, finding that a range of trends are converging to drive demand for ‘ready-to-eat’ food produce.

A decade ago, total sales of Saudi Arabia’s ready meals market stood at just over SAR 250 billion. Fast forward to today and year-on-year growth has seen the market hit SAR 310 billion by the start of the pandemic. By the end of next year, total sales will have broken through the SAR 330 barrier.

KSA Total Ready Meals Sales - SAR

Convenience is one of the main drivers of demand, with busier lifestyles among corporate and working-class individuals and more working women leaving people with lesser time to prepare meals after their work hours. Pre-cooked in advance, ready meals can be ready in minutes and are more convenient to prepare.

The growing maturity of supply side dynamics is another growth driver, says Glasgow Consulting Group in its report, with a growing number of malls, shopping centers and supermarkets (supported by a maturing distribution and infrastructure network) providing ready meals on their shelves.

Meanwhile, ready meal producers are playing their part in stimulating uptake. According to the researchers, packaging of ready meals has over the years become both more appealing (more attractive to consumers) and convenient (for example bulk packaging). Across the segment, producers are also more active with marketing efforts and promotions.

KSA Total Ready Meals Sales

Outside of the consumer segment (which accounts for 80% of ready meal sales), one fifth of revenue is generated in the business landscape. This segment spans corporates and businesses that provide their employees with ready meal food during working hours.

The segment also includes for instance chilled lunch kits at schools (which is one of the fastest growing segments as per the report) and government provided ready meals during large events, such as the Hajj pilgrimage. By 2023, the business segment is expected to hit SAR 66 billion, up from under SAR 60 billion five years ago.

Across both ready meal areas, two niche segments are gaining popularity. While ready meal foods for long were notorious for being unhealthy, today health-conscious recipes are trending, with natural and health-promoting ingredients finding their way into the category.

Sustainability is another area where progress is being booked. Some food manufacturers are moving into production of healthier products – free from artificial additives and preservatives – and greening their packaging, and as a result, health and sustainable conscious consumers are increasingly seeing their appetites fulfilled.

KSA Retail Frozen Ready Meals Sales

Frozen foods

Within the ready meals market, frozen foods and chilled foods are broadly expected to grow at similar rates. Frozen food is produce that is immediately placed in the freezer (-18°C or lower) after being purchased. Examples of items that are commonly frozen include meat, fish, chicken, pasta, vegetables, and fruits.

Chilled food items are instead stored in the fridge (not the freezer) to keep them fresh and safe (commonly at a temperature of between 0 and 5 degrees). While frozen products do not require any preservatives (because microorganisms do not grow at temperatures below -9.5 °C), chilled food items do require preservatives.

Currently estimated to be worth SAR 21.6 billion (with consumption at around 500 tonnes), the frozen food segment is expected to reach SAR 22.2 billion by the of 2023. Demand is buoyed by growing variety in supply (more variations of food on offer), broader availability across the food retail network and producer-push efforts.