Ready meals are not what they used to be.
Gone are the days of soggy green mush masquerading as peas, meat processed to within an inch of its life and gravy and sauces made almost entirely of salt and MSG.
Nowadays, consumers are demanding fresher ingredients, healthier, portion-controlled meals and simplicity in preparation.
And the manufacturers are listening, because, truthfully they would be insane not to.
In one of the fastest- growing food industries, it is crucial for companies to be on top of the game, or risk losing out to competitors.
Kit Rahman, McCain Foods marketing manager told Food Magazine the range offered by the company, including Healthy Choice, is continually changing and improving quality, in line with consumer demands.
“Food expertise, food knowledge and food experimentation are at unprecedented levels in Australia through an explosion of food-related media,” he said.
“Restaurants have increased their quality, everyday people are a bit more concerned with what they put into their mouths and a renewed interest in cooking has led to a greater range of cuisines being explored.”
Tony Rollandson from Gippsland Food Company, which produces the Lean Cuisine range, told Food Magazine that as people get busier, sales of ready meals are seeing a spike in popularity.
“Consumers who are time short are buying into market as well,” he said.
“Our traditional target market is extending, there are more consumers than ever heading to the supermarket to pick up something quick and easy.
“If you look at it from Lean Cuisine’s perspective, the amount of time and effort we put behind improving the cuisine type, type of meals we offer and dramatically improving the of quality of meals has been huge because the market is demanding that.
“As they’re looking for more exciting meals and healthier meals we had to move with the times.”
Rahman agreed, explaining Healthy Choice’s goal is to make healthy and tasty meals in the ready meal category more exciting for consumers, who are not only busy but also living alone more than ever before.
[Being busy] is definitely a factor – we also have changing population demographics with greater numbers of single-person households, and cooking for 1 person isn’t much fun,” he told Food Magazine.
“The typical consumer of Healthy Choice would be a single female, 30-40 yrs old, interested in maintaining her health and weight-conscious but not to the point of extreme dieting or calorie-counting.
“She works, leads a full life outside of work and packs a lot into her schedule.”
Rollandson is less inclined to speculate about the type of consumer Healthy Choice attracts, explaining that the demographic is constantly shifting as obesity and associated disease remain front page news.
“It’s quite varied,” he explained to Food Magazine.
“A considerable number are baby boomers who’ve hot dispensable income and are looking for a healthy alternative, others are middle aged men and women who are simply time poor with work and other things.
“There are all types of people looking for a healthier alternative these days, particularly those in single households.”
Some shoppers Food Magazine spoke to said the price of a single meal often puts them off buying Ready Meals, but Rollandson explained that using fresher ingredients and healthier alternatives cannot be done as cheaply as using low-quality products.
“If looking at the price points, they from $4.50 to $9, so if you compare that to other food or drinks they’re relatively inexpensive for what you’re getting,” he said.
“Our steamed range for Lean Cuisine is growing dramatically at the moment, as are our premium options, which offer a split tray with protein separated from the carbohydrates.”
Over at Healthy Choice, Rahman notes a different growth pattern in cuisine types, with people choosing heartier, comfort-type foods.
“The most popular meals in the McCain range are the traditional “classic” meals including Chicken Parmagiana, Lasagne, and Roast Chicken,” he told Food Magazine.