Convenience factor (Part 1): Authenticity & salt reduction drives prepared meal innovation


15 May 2018 --- The demand for healthy and nutritious food is paving the way for innovation across many food sectors. One particular food sector that is flourishing when it comes to innovative NPD is ready meals and convenience foods. The authenticity of ready meals that are easy to cook, in a world where consumers’ lives are fast-paced, is also driving innovation in this area.

Last month, Nestlé launched an exciting innovation to the market – Maggi Creations – Sri Lanka’s first ever noodle meal kit, providing consumers with pre-portioned food ingredients and recipes to prepare home-cooked Nasigoreng and Biriyani style noodle meals. It is part of Maggi’s “Simply Good” initiative to inspire and offer tastier and more nutritious choices and encourage more home-cooking among the younger generation. Each Maggi Nasigoreng and Maggi Biriyani pack serves two people, containing two noodle cakes made with the goodness of oats, a seasoning mix of spices and vegetables, and a spicy sauce. It also provides recipes to enhance the meal with vegetables and meat for added nutrition.Click to Enlarge

Catering to consumer preference for no artificiality and more natural and familiar ingredients, the Maggi Creations range contains a variety of popular Sri Lankan spices to naturally enhance flavor, including garlic, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, cumin, chili, black pepper, nutmeg, fenugreek and aniseed. It also offers nutrition and portion guidance on-pack to help consumers eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Gary Augustine, Executive Director, Market Development at Kalsec also agrees with this notion and believes there are several trends that are driving development in convenience food and ready meals.  “Interests in hot and spicy and ethnic flavors are a key consumer driver. Consumers are looking for more variety and special flavor profiles in ready meals,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “Consumers want to experience authentic ethnic cuisines as they are exposed to more global dishes through their travels, entertainment and the internet.”

Many of these dishes include a heat component such as a certain chili pepper variety combined with authentic herbs and spices from a particular region. Adding value to a protein source such as a new flavor can differentiate prepared meal manufacturers in addition to improving margins. Convenience and packaging are also critical components to ready meals as consumers are interested in portion size, variety and visual appeal through product packaging, according to Augustine. “This makes it critical for these meals to have appealing colors and improved stabilization of their protein sources with natural antioxidants,” he explains.              

Also honing in on this, Scott Nyzaka, Kalsec CEO says: “The need for convenience foods is driven by the fact that we have much less time and energy. There are a growing amount of consumers that are a lot of more exposed to ethnic food and they want unique eating experiences in their homes. We have many flavors and blends that help consumers to discover just that and we are also starting to now work on plant-based proteins which are part of the trend for convenience foods making that as palatable ab experience for the consumer as possible.”

Click to EnlargeIn the ready meals space, convenience and taste have always been a key element. But increasingly, consumers are stepping up their demands to make sure that these convenient meals are also as authentic and healthy as possible. The challenge for manufacturers revolves around delivering taste within the right nutritional and authenticity constraints. FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Grace Keenan, Marketing Manager at Kerry, about the company’s ready meals solutions, which aim to help customers tick all the right boxes in the prepared meals space.

“Across Europe, we see a need for simple and honest ingredients. From a consumer perspective, this means an understanding of the ingredients used and we also see a lot of requests around the authenticity of taste, whether that is authentic to a region, or authentic to a memory. In ready meals, convenience is what consumers are looking for, but they don’t want to compromise on taste,” she explains. Our responsibility is to deliver on taste and nutritional regulations.”

Salt remains under the spotlight on prepared meals and according to Keenan that includes clean label, a reduction of artificial flavors and preservatives. “We are doing a lot of work now in the prepared meals space that helps consumers understand and reduce the salt, fat and calories in the foods they want to consume,” she notes.

Roy Janssen, Marketing Manager at Scelta Mushrooms also weighed in on this concept. “Scelta offers a wide range of mushrooms to fit their specific needs. Furthermore, Scelta Taste Accelerator helps manufacturers to reduce salt in meals while still harnessing a great flavor. We see this trend in abundance from airline caterers to the high traffic venues in city centers.”

“Like in the rest of the food market, we see taste and health as key trends. This may sound logical, but convenience food used to serve a different purpose. In urban environments, propositions with a clear focus on these themes show rapid growth. When we look at health customers are willing to pay more for products that contain less salt, are clean label and vegan. In essence, in convenience food, customers are willing to pay more for a good taste from healthy products,” Janssen states.

Stay tuned with FoodIngredientsFirst where Part 2 of this report will be available later this week.

By Elizabeth Green

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