Many of today’s meal choices revolve around convenience. Busy lifestyles have helped propel the grab-and-go and ready meal categories at grocery stores and drive interest in subscription meal kit services, where the majority of ingredients are pre-prepared. Salad and “bowl” style kits are also popular, offering consumers the opportunity to personalize their meal with select toppings and sprinkles for added texture.
Even when cooking meals at home, consumers are looking for quick and easy “hacks” to save time on shopping and meal preparation. Dry mixes for pastas, soups and marinades are all time savers, used by even avid at-home cooks.
As the COVID-19 pandemic forces more consumers to prepare meals at home, the meal solutions market has an opportunity to capitalize on consumers’ quest for convenience and their desire for an elevated and satisfying meal experience.
Here are three trends influencing New Product Development (NPD) in easy-to-prepare meals:
1. Internationally inspired flavors
In a market where NPD teams are continually challenged to create something new, experimenting with innovative flavors can help pique consumer interest.
Flavors inspired by international dishes appeal to adventurous consumers looking for ways to add variety to their diet and experiment with new, global cuisines. In the U.S., consumers also show a growing interest in flavors and ingredients stemming from Latin dishes, as well as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese cuisines.1
2. Natural labels.
Prepared meals may offer added convenience, but consumers are skeptical of processed foods that contain artificial additives. According to a recent survey from the International Food Information Council, “natural” labels are increasingly influencing consumers’ food and beverage purchases.2 Freeze-dried vegetables, herbs, and pulses are ideal for locking in authentic flavor, nutrients and color in salad kits, pasta and soups, while maintaining an all-natural label. With a long ambient shelf-life, freeze-dried ingredients retain their crisp, crunchy texture, authentic flavor and key nutrients, making them ideal for shelf-stable dry ingredient mixes.
3. Value-add texture.
Textural variety can help add elements of indulgence to healthier offerings. Baked toppings and croutons are essential for prepared salads and soups, where a little bit of extra crunch brings a lot of value.
Flavorful breadings and crumb coatings help elevate baked or fried meat, poultry, and fish, turning a simple weeknight dinner into a family favorite. Brands can get creative with different flavors and spices, like garlic and herb, sage and thyme, and sundried tomato, to provide consumers more options for healthier snacking and cooking.
Chaucer offers a wide variety of baked ingredients for meal solutions, including croutons, crumbs and coatings in a range of presentations – like focaccia and sourdough. All of Chaucer’s baked selections are made with authentic ingredient and contain no additives or artificial preservatives, supporting a simpler label.
Chaucer’s freeze-dried vegetables and pulses are another easy way to add natural flavor, color and nutrition to salads, soups, ingredient mixes and more. Freeze-dried vegetables are 100% natural, making them an immediate value-add for products appealing to a health-focused and clean label consumer. Fruits and sweet ingredients are also increasingly being used in savory meals like salads, pastas and a number of entrees hailing from a variety of international cuisines.
Whether you’re working on something new, or adjusting to new trends, our R&D team is constantly developing new application ideas and creating ingredient solutions that add real value for our customers. Learn more about how our savory baked and freeze-dried ingredients can a premium flair meal applications, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with a member of our team.
1. “Mintel Announces Five U.S. Flavor and Ingredient Trends,” Mintel Press Centre. June, 2019.
2. 2020 Food & Health Survey, International Food Information Council. 2020.