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In the prepared foods sector, there has been a significant push for organic, gluten-free and vegan meals to highlight their “chef-inspired roots” as brands strive to emulate restaurant quality.

FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key players active in this space who anticipate a rise in Asian-inspired convenience dishes, which appeal to consumers under lockdown seeking their next flavor trip.

Meanwhile, the rising pressure upon prepared foods brands to green-up their portfolio continues to shift the overall design of ready meals toward more plant-based ingredients and the use of environmentally-friendly packaging, with less plastics and waste.

Flavors from the East
Cargill has observed heightened innovation around flavors, as brands seek inspiration from around the world.

Cup Noodles Katsu Curry. (Credit: Premier Foods)“Consumers want adventure in the foods they buy, giving rise to tempting creations like spicy vegan entrées topped with Asian-inspired sauces. Hand-in-hand, consumers have heightened expectations around quality,” remarks Fiona Barnett, business development manager of food starches at Cargill.

Evidencing this trend, German spice expert Raps recently tapped into the demand for flavors from the Far East with its liquid seasonings launch. Designed to provide “an ideal basis for creative convenience dishes,” the company says the condiments impress with authentic spices from Japanese and Korean cuisines and fresh, intense flavor profiles.

Premier Foods was also inspired by this trend in its launch of a new Cup Noodles flavor variant to entice shoppers in the Asian pot snacks market. Japanese-inspired Katsu Curry Cup Noodles launched earlier this year, made with authentic Japanese seasoning, large vegetable pieces and long ramen-style noodles to give the distinctive flavors that shoppers recognize from home-cooked and takeaway versions of the dish.

The Katsu pot also marks the introduction of a new, fully recyclable format to the Cup Noodles range. The updated packaging utilizes the same materials and technology used on Premier Foods’ Batchelors pot snacks.

“We have already seen exciting flavors from across this range drive strong growth in the category, so are confident the new Katsu pot will continue that,” comments Adam Woolf, brand director for quick meals and snacks at Premier Foods.

German spice expert Raps recently tapped into the demand for flavors from the Far East with its liquid seasonings launch. (Credit: Raps)Greening up convenience

Following Innova Market Insights’ crowning of “Shared Planet” as the Top Trend for 2022, Lallemand Bio-Ingredients observes a sustained interest for ready meals that include a plant-based meat alternative, partly driven by the recent COP26 topics and trials of front-of-pack carbon labeling announced last August.

“Consumers are becoming aware that switching to plant-based food and beverages is not only interesting from a health point of view, but could also help in the fight against global warming, contributing by 2050 to the ambitious aim limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C,” highlights Dr. Davide Sardella, applied research specialist at Lallemand Europe.

In some parts of the world, cravings for red meat diets are not weakening, which escalates the demand for ingredient solutions that close the gap on animal-based ingredients and their analogs. “In Asia-Pacific [APAC], there’s a growing interest for red meat flavors,” says Sardella.

Lallemand’s portfolio includes yeast-based ingredients, such as Lalvita 2190 and Toravita 033, which have the ability to substitute phosphates in the production of processed meat, such as sausages, meatballs and other formats that are easily included in the ready meal offers.

What’s in the crust?
Also in response to the uptick in appetite for ready meals made with meat alternatives, Cargill’s Infuse service offering model has developed various plant-based ingredient blends that help brands create vegan meals.

The supplier expects to see even more launches of prepared meals made with pea proteins, lentils, beans and other plant proteins, or combinations of animal and plant proteins.

Brands are incorporating plants into all kinds of prepared meals, such as in the case of pizza crusts crafted with cauliflower flour.“The plant-based trend is especially hot right now,” says Barnett. “Brands are incorporating plants into all kinds of prepared meals, from pizza crusts crafted with cauliflower flour to plant-based meat alternatives headlining frozen pizzas, burritos, protein bowls and pasta meals.”

“Some brands are even offering plant-based meat alternatives as both stand-alone burgers, meatballs and crumbles, while also using co-branding strategies to call out their inclusion in frozen meals,” she underscores.

“Our Infuse team recently crafted a delicious vegan pizza prototype that sports a high protein claim thanks to plant protein enrichment of both the dough and the crumble.”

Cargill enriched the dough for this vegan pizza with Trilisse GBI 4501 – a blend of pea protein and wheat proteins. “This protein combination helps to reduce elasticity in the dough, preventing shrinkage,” says Barnett.

“For the plant-based crumble, we used our soon-to-be-launched textured plant proteins, next to our pea and wheat proteins enrichment. The resulting pizza topping delivers an authentic meat-like texture, with a firm chewy bite,” she illustrates.

“Finally, our vegan cheese alternative provides nice melt and re-melting properties to complete the plant-based pizza.”

Source: Prepared foods trends: Ready meals tailored to Asian-inspired dishes, vegan varieties and restaurant quality