Insights by AUSPACK, News

Ready Meals Boom Supported by Food Packaging

APAC Ready Meals Boom Supported by Food Packaging

Posted on July 14th, 2020 in Insights by AUSPACK, News

Ready meals have come a long way from the bland, unhealthy TV dinners of the last century. Today’s prepared foods are tastier and more nutritious, and an increasingly popular alternative for busy Australians who don’t have time to cook and want to save on takeaway costs.

This growth has been supported by developments in food packaging technology, such as modified atmosphere packaging allowing food brands to extend the shelf life of prepared meals and the shift towards sustainable packaging helping brands to improve their image and satisfy consumers.

Consumer trends driving growth

Once merely convenient, prepared foods now check more boxes so consumers don’t have to compromise on nutrition or the dining experience when choosing food that’s fast, healthy and tasty.

Convenience

Busy lifestyles, long commutes and changing habits mean people are generally spending less time in the kitchen. Research by supermarket Coles earlier this year found that one in three customers say they don’t have time to prepare meals themselves.

While 2020’s coronavirus lockdowns may have offered more opportunities for home cooking, the survey also revealed that more than half of customers (52%) aren’t interested in cooking more at home even if they have the chance, with chopping and cutting ingredients being their major pain points.

Prepared meals have traditionally been associated with lunch, dinner and between-meals snacks, but brands are increasingly targeting breakfast too for early morning convenience.

Nutrition

Today’s food buyers are more health-conscious than earlier generations and more likely to check packaging labels and judge a food on its nutritional benefits. Ready meal brands have stepped up by promoting dishes as being high in protein and fibre, low in calories andmade from quality ingredients.

Brands are also catering to the growth of vegetarian and vegan diets with plant-based prepared meals using real vegetables.

Flavours

Food shoppers don’t want to sacrifice taste for convenience, and they don’t have to with an ever-expanding range of flavourful ready meals available in supermarket aisles. Travel and multiculturalism have expanded consumer tastes over the years, leading to demand for authentic international options from all over Asia and other parts of the world.

Prepared meals and COVID-19

Food companies have struggled like many others during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, but the prepared foods market has weathered it better than most. With concerns over employment and a looming recession causing many food buyers to watch their wallets, prepared meals have been embraced as a more affordable option than takeaways for feeding families.

Family-owned prepared food company Youfoodz saw a 30% rise in home deliveries during March, according to the Australian Financial Review. Although demand for convenience foods from supermarkets was unchanged during the period, retailers are expecting a post-COVID surge as more people return to their normal routines.

Supermarkets buying prepared food brands

The big Australian food retailers have taken notice of the demand for prepared foods by expanding their own ranges of convenience foods and acquiring leading brands.

Coles acquired Jewel Fine Foods in March and now sells its range under the Coles Kitchen label, which includes more than 100 new ready-to-heat dishes alongside its Coles Finest premium meals and Nature’s Kitchen organic range. Coles has also partnered with Youfoodz to stock a range of meals in stores nationwide.

Meanwhile, Beak & Johnston bought two General Mills food brands – Ready Chef and Pasta Master – and licensed a third, while Woolworths has expanded its range of ready meals, including options for under $10. Australian food shoppers have a huge variety of convenient options to choose from, both in stores and delivered to their homes.

Prepared food packaging

Packaging manufacturers are working closely with retailers to produce high quality food packaging that meets consumer demands. Five growing areas are:

1. Clear labelling

Food brands and retailers should show confidence in their ready meals’ health benefits rather than hiding them away in small print where they’re likely to be overlooked.

2. Attractive design

The first bite is with the eye, and ready meals need to look as delicious as they taste. Good food photography combined with minimalist graphics and typefaces will draw the eye and make meals look more delectable.

3. Portability

Convenience food can be made even more convenient with packaging designs that are easy to carry and hold, especially after heating.

4. Sustainability

Brands can’t afford to be behind the times on sustainability, which is as important for their customers as for industry regulators. Single-use plastics are being minimised in favour of biodegradable or recyclable packaging to reduce waste. Packaging should also include clear instructions to buyers on how to dispose of each component.

5. Smart packaging

QR codes, embedded NFC chips and other smart labels that can be scanned by smartphones give customers more information than may be included on printed packaging.

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