‘Heat-and-eat’ meals cook up new recipes, sales

In the current economy, microwavable single-serve meals may be the answer to consumers’ decreased restaurant use. “These meals occupy the spot between homemade and restaurant meals,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst and VP at NPD Group. “They represent food
service redefined.”

Balzer said since restaurant visits peaked in 2000, consumers may be looking to shelf–stable microwaveable meals and frozen meals to replace those restaurant dining occasions. “Frozen handheld meals, such as hamburgers and sandwiches, have become an important part of consumers’ nighttime meals,” he said.

Microwaveable packaged dinners have been the fastest-growing segment in the shelf-stable entrée category over the last few years, according to consumer research group Mintel International, but heated promotional pricing has caused dollar sales to dip. Giant supermarkets, for example, recently promoted Hormel Compleats at two for $4.

Mintel predicts that the category’s future depends on the introduction of more premium “heat-and-eat” meals that appeal to a wider taste- and health-driven audience. Manufacturers, said a report from Mintel, are introducing “better-for-you entrées made of all-natural ingredients, added vegetables and balanced nutrition. Other marketers are creating restaurant-inspired dishes made with premium ingredients to address the need for better taste.”

“Innovation really helps to keep this category fresh,” said Kellie Benning, product manager for Hormel Microwave Meals. “People have grown accustomed to comfort foods, but also want to become
more adventurous.”

Hormel’s new Compleats Cheesy Pasta line, which will hit shelves this month, features six new products that Benning said reflect the “company’s innovation and new capabilities moving into 2013.”

Barilla also has entered the market this past summer with a line of five microwavable meals. The single servings of pasta and sauce are ready to eat in 60 seconds, and retail for $3.29 for a 9-oz. serving.

Benning said drug stores should expect more upside for the category. Retailers, she said, can maximize category sales by creating a destination where meal solutions can be grouped together. “Retailers are dedicating more space to this category. Endcap or secondary displays are key in order for the drug store to capitalize on the category,” she said.

Mintel found that consumers are interested in high-fiber and high-protein products and whole grains, and consider reduced sodium to be a primary concern. “The industry has a ways to go in terms of upgrading its nutritional profile,” said a recent report from the market research firm.

 

 

The article above is part of the DSN Category Review Series. For the complete Grocery & Pantry Buy-In Report, including extensive charts, data and more analysis, click here.

 

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