A Sustainable Assessment in the Convenience Food Sector: Ready-made Meals

UoM administered thesis: Phd


The food industry has an essential role in society and in the global economy. Nowadays, modernlifestyle demands convenience, which is driving the development of the food sector. This isparticularly evident with convenience food, especially ready-made meals, industrially preparedfood, which only requires a short preparation time at home by consumers, but has very complexand diverse supply chains and is associated with a range of sustainability issues. Therefore, theaim of this research is to evaluate the environmental, economic and social sustainability in theready-made meals sector with the focus on the UK market. A life cycle approach has been used forthese purposes, using life cycle assessment (LCA) as the tool for the environmental analysis, lifecycle costing (LCC) for the economic aspects and social sustainability indicators (SI) for the socialissues. Different types of ready-made meal from different cuisines have been considered, includingthe British, Italian, Chinese and Indian.The highest environmental impacts are found for the Italian and Indian cuisines, while Chinesemeals are environmentally most sustainable, followed by the British. At the sectoral level, theresults suggest that from 'cradle to retailer' the British ready-made meal sector contributes 4.45 Mtof CO2 eq. annually, which represents ~4% of the GHG emissions of the food and drink sector and~1% of the UK GHG emissions. Of this, 3.16 Mt of CO2 eq. is emitted by chilled and 1.28 Mt of CO2eq. by the frozen ready-made meals. The total life cycle costs at the sectoral level from 'cradle tograve' are estimated at £2.1 bn, with the chilled ready-made meals market contributing £1.42 bnand the frozen £676 million. The life cycle costs from 'cradle to retailer' are £1.02 bn, with the valueadded of £958 million. The common environmental and cost hotspot for all the meals studied is rawmaterials. In particular, the meat, fish and seafood are the greatest contributors. For theenvironmental impacts, the manufacturing and distribution stages are also important, while theconsumption stage is the largest contributor to the costs. The major social aspects are the foodrelated health issues and food security, in particular food affordability. In the supply chainagriculture, wholesale and retailers show high risk for indicators such as wages and employmentwhile the manufacturing presents high risk in fatal injuries.The study also shows that consumer choices play an important role for the economic andenvironmental impacts; therefore, educational programmes and better communicational strategiesshould be implemented by the industry, the government and consumers groups. Moreover, toensure a sustainable development of the ready-made meals sector, future policies and industrialinitiatives should consider a life cycle approach including relevant economic, environmental andsocial aspects.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2015