American consumers are still living the fast-paced, on-the-go lifestyle they have been living for the past 60 or so years. Our appetites for ease and convenience have not changed, although our health preferences and diet choices have. Instead of automatically opting for the Mickey D's drive-thru when we're hungry and pressed for time, we're increasingly pressuring food innovation experts and grocers to provide us with healthy, low-fat, low-sodium and low-sugar grab-and-go products that we can gobble on the fly.
Are any brands already offering healthy options for the harried masses?
Luckily for America, it seems that some brands have stepped up to fill the demand for frozen and pre-packaged foods that are somewhat healthier than traditional fast food offerings. A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics indicated that regular eaters of frozen meals consumed (on average) fewer calories, less fat and more recommended nutrients than those people who regularly ate at fast food restaurants.
Although healthy home cooking is still optimal, according to most nutritionists and doctors, consumers whose work schedules inhibit their ability to cook at home may still see some health benefit from opting more often for frozen foods, rather than restaurant purchases. And that bodes well for food innovators and packaged food producers.
Meal delivery services are hopping onboard the healthy food train.
Though pre-cooked and pre-packaged meal delivery companies have been around for a long time, few have specifically concentrated their production and marketing efforts on health-conscious consumers.
That's all changing.
Seattle-based Fresh and Ready meals, for example, offers Pacific Northwesterners a variety of pre-packaged, heat-and serve options that are designed to be not only "hearty and delicious," according to its website, but also to maximize the farm-fresh and gourmet ingredients that are so attractive to the modern consumer.
Fresh and Ready's meal deliveries, which can be ordered for one to three weeks ahead, come in stackable containers that are designed to fit easily in crowded refrigerators, and each meal requires only 5-15 minutes of heating and/or prep time before it can be served to a hungry family.
Fast and Healthy RTE Meals offer brands unexpected opportunities.
One new start up is already showing that new opportunities for brands lie in producing fast, healthy and appetizing school lunches.
Revolution Foods was founded by two concerned mothers who wanted to offer their children and their children's school-mates healthy, tasty school lunch options. With this impetus, the company has been able to successfully develop and market a line of pre-packaged, heat-and-serve lunches that contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives.
Among the firm's many menu offerings (they tout more than 100 dishes) are Vegetarian Macaroni and Cheese (which includes a whole wheat dinner roll, sunflower seeds, steamed carrots and fruit), a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (with baby carrots, honey roasted soy nuts and fruit) and Pasta Alfredo (with white beans, fresh butternut squash and fruit).
They also offer a series of breakfast food products.
Revolution Foods' dishes are all marketed as "kid-inspired and chef-crafted." Its product line is available not only for schools to purchase wholesale, but also for parents to purchase on their own in retail stores. The company also provides education programs about good nutrition, aimed both at schoolchildren and the educators and support staffers who are responsible for their well-being.
Food innovators can get a piece of the pre-packaged action. The operative word, though, is "healthy."
With a full-on obesity epidemic and an aging population, American consumers don't just want healthy, nutritious pre-packaged foods— they demand them. Luckily, there are a variety of ways that food producers can meet that demand.
Prepackaged sous vide-cooked foods, for example, offer a simple method for reducing the amount of preservatives necessary to guarantee a long shelf life. Because they are prepared under vacuum seal (and thus protect the natural foods contained therein from spoiling oxygenation reactions), sous vide foods can be cooked in-facility and shipped in their cooking bags with simple, applied labels.
Since sous vide foods are cooked all the way through, the end consumer need only to unseal and quickly reheat them in the microwave or on the stovetop, meeting the requirements for both fast and fresh!