The ready-to-eat (RTE) snack market is of critical importance to many food companies now, because the increasingly influential Millennial generation is hooked on RTE. With their busy lifestyles and often-limited budgets, many young American adults opt to skip traditional, prepare-at-home, sit-down meals and instead substitute a series of small meals or snacks, as their schedule allows, over the course of the day. This trend, known as "snackification" has caused many food producers to scramble to come up with products that meet the demand.
Snackification has changed the way many young adults approach protein intake. Traditional non-processed protein choices, like beef, chicken and fish, require refrigeration, close monitoring and have very limited shelf lives. But in a cuisine climate where consumers are increasingly looking for shelf-stable grab-and-go products, while simultaneously demanding fresher, preservative-free "whole" foods, food companies are being forced to get creative.
Could a Simple Cooking Method Be The Key To The RTE Snack Market?
One potential solution for food producers' RTE protein dilemma may lie in sous vide prep. RTE protein snacks, like gourmet "organic" jerky, are popular, but they require high sodium content to stay shelf-stable. Sous vide prepped meats, though, would not.
Since proteins prepared under sous vide conditions are slow-cooked in a vacuum-sealed bag, the residual microbe load is typically low, and what few aerobic bacteria may remain after cooking do not have enough oxygen left available to them to metabolize and reproduce. This gives sous vide foods a nice, long shelf life, without the need for large amounts of preservatives.
Because sous vide foods are pre-cooked, they are essentially RTE. Some food companies are already marketing pre-cooked protein strips and filets that can quickly be reheated and served. Others are marketing cold-served proteins, like chicken strips that can be added directly as a salad topper. Such products are extraordinarily attractive to the Millennial consumer. Instead of making an unhealthy fast food run, a young adult on the go can duck quickly into a grocery, hit the salad bar, purchase a ready-to-eat protein topper and move on to the next destination.
There are many heretofore untapped protein options for the RTE snack market that sous vide prep could make possible. Omega-3 fatty acid-rich eggs, for instance, are easy to prepare under sous vide conditions and would provide a chewy texture base and savory taste that satisfies comfort food or breakfast snack cravers.
Plant-Based and Organically-Raised, Non-GMO Proteins Can Attract Even More Buyers
Plant-based proteins like seitan, tempeh and pea powder-based patties have already made serious inroads in the American market. No longer being marketed strictly to vegetarians and vegans, plant-based protein products are now regularly found in mainstream groceries, in the regular aisles.
When prepared under sous vide conditions, meats become exquisitely tender. This is true, too, of plant-based proteins, so large-scale sous vide is an ideal, cost-effective way to produce a lot of well-textured, RTE snack bases in a hurry.
Imagine: RTE cold-serve or quick-heat vegan burritos, RTE tempeh sandwiches in a variety of flavors and paired with artisan breads, RTE cold-serve tofu breakfast scrambles. The taste profile possibilities are boundless, which in and of itself makes the snackified market appealing to the Millennial consumer. As a 2013 Sterling Rice Group study found out, young adults approach food as an opportunity to explore; 40 percent of Millennials order something different every time they visit the same restaurant.
The Snackification of America is On-going
Food companies need to continue to play to the shift in the market by developing more grab-and-go food products that provide proper nutrition via natural, preservative-free ingredients. With Millennials' buying power expected to exceed that of Baby Boomers in the next three years, the time to get your product line and marketing plan together is now.