As restaurants have closed down and take away options are limited, people are cooking a lot more at home than before. People who didn't cook earlier are plating fancy meals for themselves to satisfy the 'outside' food cravings. At-home celebrations have increased and families are experimenting with extravagant dishes to cheer themselves.
With at-home food consumption rising, people are looking for different meal options.
"There are times when they would like to put a meal together from scratch but at other times they would want something quicker, minus the chores. This is where ready-to-eat and ready-to-cook is seeing increasing demand," says Kanwaljit Singh, founder of early-stage venture capital (VC) firm Fireside Ventures.
Several companies serving ready-to-cook fixes are seeing increasing demand and believe the trend is here to stay.
Revenues of ready-to-eat food products company iD Fresh is increasing by 20 per cent month-on-month since April last year. In March 2020, their sales hit Rs 24 crore against the average of Rs 20 crore. This is when the company had limited production as they were selling only staple products such as the idli and dosa batter, paneer and chapattis. All other options such as vada batter etc had been stopped.
"Fresh ready-to-cook category will see around 35-40 per cent increase in demand. This is on the basis of the estimates from China's recovery story in the post COVID period and also our experience in the last six weeks," says P.C. Musthafa, chief executive and co-founder of iD Fresh.
Sahil Gilani, Director Sales and Marketing, Gits Food Products echoes the sentiment. He says that their ready-to-eat meals category such as dal makhani, matar paneer, rajma masala became a hit during lockdown.
The ready to consume meals are largely driven by exports, bought by Indian diaspora, or Indians travelling abroad. They are not bought as much because of the perception that they are unhealthy, says Gilani. They have a longer shelf life due to the use of Retort technology where high temperature is used to increase shelf life. "A lot of these misconceptions would have got busted during this time. As they would have tried them during COVID lockdown and liked it; many would continue using the products." Sales during the lockdown doubled than earlier.
He says that the ready-to-eat category will become a necessity and an essential and will no longer be seen as a discretionary spend. As more and more families are buying the products, GITS will launch their products in larger packs.
In fact, health and wellness startup Cure.fit that runs health food platform Eat.fit is expanding its packaged food and ready-to-eat range. Its co-founder Ankit Nagori says they will be launching ready-to-eat curries over the next few weeks.
"A lot of companies do meal kits for exotic food but the insight we have is people want basic food and safe food. So, we will put together the menu for everyday food such as rice and curry, paratha and curry," says Nagori. In these items, the curries will be in ready-to-eat format and parathas and rice would be ready-to-cook.
For online meat brand Licious, while the focus is in fresh meat options, they also have a marinated meat section. Its co-founder Vivek Gupta says the sales of marinated meat options have surged by two-times. In fact, their meat spread, which is just a six-month old category, has grown more than three times.
"We are not able to meet the existing demand so we are not launching newer products. But, post COVID, once supply and production gets stabilised, we will look at ready-to-cook as a category to expand further. We will start with biryani and cold cut range," says Gupta.
Since Licious has all preservative-free fresh products, he says, it takes time to put the products out in the market. It took two years for their meat spreads to become preservative-free and yet it has a shelf life of 30 days.