Georgina Wild of HIM believes stores need to cater for the hungry shopper on the hunt for dinner

The ready meal market has grown considerably in recent years due to families eating fewer meals together, the rising number of single person households, and less time spent on cooking and preparing food.

Single and dual income households who are time poor and have a higher disposable income are driving the premium end of the market.

According to Mintel, the UK is the largest market for ready meals in Europe, with sales of £2bn in 2006. Forecasts suggest the sector will see sales growth of 25% from 2006 to 2011 to reach £2.6bn in the UK.

The chilled ready meals sector is the most highly developed in terms of the range of products available and total sales. Ethnic and international recipes account for almost half of all new ready meal launches.

A quarter of all ready meals sold are Indian-style dishes, ahead of traditional British dishes such as cottage pie, with other international dishes also popular.

So what do ready meal shoppers want from their

c-store? Each year HIM speaks to 28,000 c-store shoppers face to face at stores to understand what they are buying and why. Currently, only 4% of c-store shoppers are on a 'meal for tonight' mission, meaning that there is huge untapped opportunity at many convenience retailers.

Those who are buying a meal for tonight are of a broad age range from 25 to 55 years old and most likely to be female (74%). One in three do not know what they're going to buy to eat that night, so retailers need to encourage staff to make suggestions.

The meal for tonight shopper considers value for money as the most important element in their c-store, followed by staff friendliness, product availability, range of fresh products and convenience.

Tips for retailers:

Stock a range of fresh, chilled and frozen ready meals

Create a zone for meal solutions using clear signage

Place complementary products together or near each other - for example, sauces and pasta

Maximise the opportunity to 'link buy' through ambient, chilled and frozen

Don't forget meal accompaniments like naan breads, or desserts and wine

Try a theme, such as 'Italian Week'. Create signage and drama to drive interest

Communicate your offer via leaflets - and don't forget to include local businesses.