A fifth of ready meals sold by UK supermarkets are now plant-based or vegetarian and are the cheapest option at the majority of retailers, according to a survey.
Among the ready meal category, plant-based options are the fastest growing, up by 92% since the Eating Better alliance’s first survey in 2018.
The organisation named Aldi and Tesco as its two best performers for increasing their plant-based options by 175% and 103% respectively after surveying 2,743 ready meals across 10 UK supermarkets.
Tesco and the Co-op have significantly reduced their meat-based, ready meal ranges but Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s “continue to have very meaty ranges”, while Iceland’s range remains at its 2018 level of 85% meat-based, the report said.
According to the latest research by Mintel, 86% of UK adults eat ready meals, with three in 10 people eating chilled ready meals at least once a week.
The study also found plant-based ready meals are cheaper per portion than meat meals at seven out of 10 chains.
The alliance said the Co-op was one supermarket to have significantly altered its pricing, with meat-based meals going from being 8% cheaper than its plant-based options last year to the opposite this year, with meat meals now 9% more expensive than plant-based.
Overall, the survey found a 50% increase in plant-based and vegetarian meals since 2018, with one in five ready meals on offer now plant-based or vegetarian.
The amount of cheese in vegetarian meals is also down a third in three years to 62%.
Simon Billing, executive director at Eating Better, said: “Retailers influence how and what we eat and have a responsibility to help us make healthy and sustainable food choices.
“Climate-friendly food needs to be mainstream and shouldn’t cost more, so it’s good to see progress on choice and affordability.
“Now, we need the same drive on meat options, to make up no more than 50% of the ready-meals ranges at all retailers.”
Food Foundation charity executive director, Anna Taylor, said: “This year’s survey from Eating Better shows some encouraging progress being made by the retailers, although there’s certainly a lot more that can be done.
“While it’s good to see the price of plant-based ready meals come down, the high proportion of meals containing meat remains a cause for concern given their negative impacts on both health and the environment.”
British Dietetic Association chairwoman, Caroline Bovey, said: “It is positive to see major retailers providing consumers with greater choice and more balance.
“As we outline in our One Blue Dot campaign, the UK diet as a whole needs to change if we are to meet our ambitious net-zero carbon targets.
“That means reducing meat, moderating dairy and increasing fruit, vegetables and plant-based sources of protein. We hope the trends identified here continue, with more ready meal options that are better for our health and that of the planet.”