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Convenience Food: Manufactured food, needing little further preparation.
The food we eat is increasingly processed. The mass-ownership of microwave ovens, and the growth of two income families have led to an increased reliance on time saving convenience foods.
Sales of chilled ready meals grew by 12% in 1999, while fresh fruit consumption fell by 3%, although sales of fresh fruit and vegetables had been increasing over the previous ten years.
The main growth area in 1999 was in processed meats and meat products. Sales of frozen convenience meat products have grown by 127% since 1978.
Cooking and Home Economics isn"t given the gravitas it once was in our education system, and young people often leave school unable to cook and fend for themselves. As this has now reached its second generation, parents can often be of little help - so the reliance on convenience food (and its much higher price) increases. Many people in the present generation don"t understand the need for proper cooking. This leads to greater potential for food poisoning - the incidence of which has been rising steadily in Britain.
Food processing further separates the urban consumer from the farm. Many children don"t know how food is grown or how animals are reared.
Recent market research by Mintel has found that between 1998 - 2002 sales of ready meals in the five major European markets - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - rose by an average 29% - from 5.4 to 7 billion euros.
The British have taken an adventurous lead - possibly due to more foreign travel, and also because 80% of the population own a microwave. This compares to 71% in Germany, 68% in France, 46% in Spain and only 35% in Italy - in the latters case, the method by which electricity is supplied is a major handicap for 'surge' items such as microwaves and electric kettles.
UK tastes are also much more diverse than our neighbours - including Indian, Chinese and other Asian options - 55% of Britain's confess to enjoying foreign food, whereas only 23% of Italians and 19% of Spaniards have tempted their taste buds away from pasta and paella.
The British market is worth 2.9 billion euros at 2002 prices.