When most Americans hear the phrase “ready to eat,” farmed ostrich, rabbit, oysters and eggs benedict are hardly the foods that come to mind. Instead, consumers imagine soggy fries, overdone (and over-processed) hamburger mystery meat, or crunch-less veggies. But that perception could be about to change.
Innovating food industry trends is no small task—especially with the converging demands for fresh, ready-to-eat foods that are healthy and snackable. That is, until sous vide met ready-to-eat (RTE). It’s a match made in culinary heaven: bite-sized, ready-to-eat foods that are still healthy, fresh and flavor-packed. Thanks to rapidly growing consumer demand, sous vide could easily dominate the RTE category by as early as 2025.
Snackification of Food: Changing the RTE Landscape
Americans have always loved their snack food, and we do so now more than ever. Single-sized snacking bites rule the day; they’re a convenient, on-the-go solution, and their pre-portioned size takes the hassle out of estimating serving sizes or worrying about portion control.
Protein bites and bars are especially popular, but that doesn’t make them exempt from other food trends. Consumer demand is pushing protein bars companies towards even healthier nutrition offerings as consumers vote with their wallets in favor of fewer additives, cleaner ingredient lists, less sugar and fat, and more whole grains. Mintel estimates that US protein bar sales will hit $6.2 billion in 2018, up from $5.5 billion in 2013, thanks to steady demand from health-conscious Millennials, Baby Boomers and exercise devotees.
RTE food manufacturers, eager to grab their piece of the snackification marketplace, are looking for new, fresh ways to stand out. While protein bars are a quick grab-and-go meal solution, consumers want more than just a quick protein fix in a bar. Our palettes have expanded, and we still want rich flavors, but we want them without the added fat and sugar common in most ready-to-eat foods. The cliché is true: we want our cake, and we want to eat it too—as long as it’s in a perfectly-portioned size that’s low in fat, sugars and preservatives.
Catering to Expanding Snack Preferences Is Essential for Capturing Market Share
The sous vide preparation revolution and America’s preference for snackable bites is changing the RTE market. Sous vide is a preparation technique that yields melt-in-your-mouth tender cooking results for all types of foods without the need for heavy preservatives. In French, “sous vide” literally means cooking under a vacuum. Foods are sealed in packages prior to cooking in order to pack in flavor and moisture. While sous vide sounds complicated, it’s actually very straightforward process—albeit one that takes specialized equipment and knowledge to replicate on a mass scale.
Industrial sous vide requires lower energy consumption during the food preparation phase, and the process’ precise control over temperature offers the ability to maintain food quality while quickly scaling up production. Sous vide may be the perfect solution for America’s increasing demand for snack-sized RTE meals. Sous vide-prepped foods also have longer shelf lives while requiring fewer preservatives, a natural fit with American consumers’ growing preference for minimum processing and low preservatives.
Here’s the Bottom Line:
Convenient snacking is the name of the game when it comes to getting the attention and business of the American consumers. Ready-to-eat sous vide foods can be easily tailored to fit any meal size, ranging from family-size meals to grab-and-go snacks. More importantly, since sous vide is an ideal preparation method for high-capacity, high-quality production, this cooking style makes it easier to quickly expand production while experimenting with new ingredients and flavors. And since sous vide foods have longer shelf lives, this food preparation style is also cost-efficient for manufacturers, allowing them to take more risks with creative ingredients: farmed ostrich, rabbit, oysters and eggs benedict may all be arriving on the ready-to-eat shelf at your local grocery store any day!