How to dial-up the authenticity of your ready meals
The UK is the unrivalled king of the ready meal. Nowhere in the world do we value the convenience of an easy to prepare dish, as much as us Brits do. But while we like things to be quick and easy, we also want authentic flavours and indulgent tastes - and the cost of getting it wrong can be high.
According to Mintel’s 2018 World Cuisines UK report, it’s estimated that retail sales of world foods have reached £1.64 billion in 2017 (8% higher than 2015), and this is primarily thanks to the growth in more ‘exotic’ or ‘ethnic’ products. While it may not be surprising that Italian is still the unrivalled leader of the chilled ready meals category in the UK, Indian and Chinese are slowly catching up and a wide range of more niche cuisines are starting to steal share too. For example, Mexican and Thai products, with value sales up 15.7% and 14.2% respectively, are growing at quite a pace as new products are launched to meet growing consumer demand.
Innova has signalled that the trend isn’t limited to the UK as their findings showed that the growth of ethnic ready meals in the USA shows no signs of slowing down. Between 2013 and 2017, there was a 20% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for new product launches from the world cuisine sector in the US. So what’s causing this demand on both sides of the pond?
The Grocer’s World Cuisine Category Report 2018 uncovered a range of reasons driving the desire for authenticity. As travel has become more affordable, many people have had the opportunity to taste the real thing and are unwilling to compromise on authenticity once they’re back home. They’re keen to keep the travel bug alive with the meals they choose but don’t want to buy a substandard ready meal that doesn’t live up to their expectations.
And if they’ve not managed to get away themselves, the plethora of cooking programmes with celebrity chefs and the diversity of restaurants and street food has helped to stoke the fires of demand for exotic products. Younger shoppers in particular have been exposed to a greater number of cultures than ever before and want to bring authentic world cuisine into their diet in the UK, without losing the convenience of a traditional ready meal. From Indian to Italian, Mexican to Korean, these global cuisines are taking hold of taste buds and food manufacturers need to tap into the trend to keep up.
What’s clear is that the key to the growth of ethnic ready meals is authenticity. The Grocer’s report highlights retailers who have got it wrong and felt the backlash for their lack of authentic flavours or recipes. It’s vital to spend time on the development to get it right and deliver the punchy tastes of world cuisine, whatever the region, that consumers have come to expect.
So the challenge for manufacturers is how can you replicate authentic cooking styles to create authentic products outside of a simple kitchen? Traditional cooking styles tend to lead to a more labour intensive, complex process but is it possible to use technology to help create authentic products efficiently? That’s where Steam Infusion technology can help.
From Chinese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese soups to Indian, Moroccan and Mexican sauces, OAL’s Steam Infusion fast cooking technology is ideal for creating authentic flavours that consumers will love. The Vaction™ Pump can heat 500kg to 90°C in under 10 minutes - almost as fast as a saucepan or wok at home, but with greater flexibility and quality when working on a larger scale.
A fast, automated cooking cycle can produce identical batches with minimal degradation from a long holding time. This tends to be tricky in a traditional cooking vessel as operators have multiple batches to attend to and so variations can occur. With automated cooking, the system times cooking cycles to coincide with demand, producing an authentic sauce time after time.
The quick cooking time allows you to retain the bright, glossy colour and intense flavour profile of your ingredients so your products remain authentic and delight consumers’ eyes and taste buds. Spices can really benefit with Steam Infusion as all of their flavour, including the volatile top-notes, are captured in the product - which even a wok can’t do! This can even lead to ingredient reductions for expensive spices to achieve the desired flavour profile - saving money and improving your green credentials.
If you’re concerned about how authentic your products will turn out using Steam Infusion, our development chef can run trials with your recipes and offer advice to get it right. Our test centre at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) in the UK is fully equipped to give you real-life results.