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Ready-to-eat meal market is experiencing rapid growth

ready-to-eat meal

Total Construction is helping companies get new manufacturing facilities off the ground for the growing ready-to-eat meal sector.   

The ready-to eat-meal market has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years and with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies in the space have accelerated investment.   

Total Construction, a commercial building company, is getting a front row seat to the growth of the market after working with stakeholders in the sector.  

Total Construction’s national general manager, food and beverage division, Tony Tate said a number of factors were driving the sector’s growth after it stalled at the turn of the millennium.  

Back then it was shown to be too expensive to produce quality and affordable ready-to-eat meals for the average consumer in Australia, but thanks to advancements in production methods and a growing demand for the product, the sector is in the best shape it’s ever been in.  

The volume of output, coupled with the growing consumer demand, has seen the sector experience three to four per cent growth week on week in recent times.   

As manufacturers ramp up production of ready-to-eat meals, and others enter the Australian market, Total Construction finds itself being sought after to get facilities, which meet the stringent quality and hygiene standards around the product, off the ground.   

“The new facilities have to be designed and built to high food standards because some of these products will have 7-to-10-day shelf lives,” said Tate.  

Adding to the challenges of meeting quality and hygiene standards are the requirements for the product to be made in the chilled model, like in the UK, and not like the frozen model from the United States.   

“Ready to eat manufactures have to exceed the normal food safety standards that a lot of restaurants have. These food standards follow the brief of the UK standards,” said Tate. 

“The organoleptic mouth feel also has to be the same from day one to day 10, and obviously the microbial growth has to be minimised for it to be reheated in the oven or the microwave.” 

As a result, the machinery and software used on the read-to-eat production line has to be of the highest quality.  

“There are some manufacturers in Australia, but majority of the automated specialist process equipment comes from Europe,” said Tate.  

“They meet all the hygienic designs in finishes and fabrication in stainless steel. They have no areas that can’t be accessed easily for cleaning and the design allows the equipment to be fully sanitised.” 

The machinery also has to be swabbed at the start of every day and if any residual protein is found they are sanitised and swabbed again.  

Despite the costs of raising a ready-to-eat manufacturing facility from the ground up, many companies have accelerated their investment in the sector in recent years, with the pandemic playing a surprising part.  

“Because of Covid these businesses are thriving,” said Tate. 

“They are currently investing a lot of money to get facilities up and running and these sites are not just small manufacturing plants, they are producing high volume ready meals, anywhere to 200,000 meals a day, 1 million a week.”  

With that sort of output, it’s little wonder a range of potential clients have reached out to Total Construction to help with the development of their new facilities.  

The popularity of the product has also been reflected in sales from major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, who reported strong sales in 2020.  

The shortage of supply and cold storage vacancy created by the demand is another key driver behind an increase in demand for temperature-controlled facilities, which is where Total Construction steps in.  

“Clients come to us for our expertise,” said Tate.  

“We have fitted out, or built from scratch, 85 facilities in the 13 years that food and beverage has been a part of our company, which has made us one of the go to experts.”   

Tate said while the fabrications and building doesn’t make the client money like the processing equipment, it pays to engage a construction company that understands the industry standards required.  

For example, using the correct insulated sandwich panel to make sure surfaces are smooth, helping to reduce microbial build and making it easy to clean. 

Thanks to the recent explosion in the ready meals space, Total Construction currently has three major projects in various design stages and is excited at what the future holds for the sector.  

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