How to meet health targets through ready meal reformulation

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Ready meals are big business. Nothing beats the convenience of popping to the supermarket and picking up a ready meal as an alternative to dining out, particularly in these challenging economic times.

As we have already seen, consumers are seeking more authentic flavours from the ready meals they choose, which has led to an overall premiumisation trend – great news for manufacturers. But while flavours are getting bigger, government bodies are cracking down on salt, sugar and calories, which poses the challenge – how do manufacturers meet the targets without compromising on taste?

A pinch of salt

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As Public Health England (PHE) states, “as a nation, we are consuming too much salt – 8 grams a day on average”, which is above the government’s recommended target of 6 grams. PHE states that approximately four-fifths of salt intake comes from the foods we buy, leading the government to first impose salt reduction targets in 2006 on a whole range of products, including ready meals. The results from the latest targets released by PHE in December 2018 show that 52% of manufacturers and retailers met the average salt reduction targets set in 2014. While this is good news, it also demonstrates that there is a long way to go for many products and their manufacturers.

In 2019, food and drinks manufacturers are facing 145 targets for reformulation, according to The Grocer – a daunting prospect for many manufacturers. For example, PHE is targeting a 20% calorie reduction across savoury products by 2024 in addition to the new salt reduction targets and attempts to cut down on sugar levels.

But it’s not just health chiefs pushing the need the reformulation. France and Spain recently signed up to adhere to the Nutriscore labelling on front-of-pack, similar to the traffic light system in the UK, which is likely to lead to more scrutiny on prepared meals as consumers better understand the products they’re purchasing and try to make healthier choices.

If manufacturers want to meet the health targets and provide healthier choices to consumers, it’s clear that many ready meals will need to be reformulated. But just changing the recipe or cutting out ingredients can leave ready meals tasting bland. What if you could maximise the taste while meeting the health targets all by changing the process?

Reformulation fever

Manufacturers switching to Steam Infusion have reformulated recipes with award-winning success. Reformulation is easy with Steam Infusion. This fast cooking technology is ideal for creating great tasting ready meals that consumers will love, while reducing the ingredients most reviled by government health bodies. The high-speed controllable mixing environment achieves a homogenising effect, allowing you to create a fat mimetic, achieving a creamier taste for ready meal sauces without the extra calories to meet the new targets.

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The Vaction™ Pump can heat 500kg to 90°C in under 10 minutes. This quick cooking time allows you to retain the intense flavour profile of your ingredients so your products remain authentic and delight consumers’ taste buds. Salt and sugar additions can be reduced as more flavour from the whole recipe is captured in the product, so consumers won’t be able to tell that they’re eating healthier products.

For example, let’s take a recent customer making a tikka masala sauce with Steam Infusion. All the spices where reduced from the original recipe in the trial as Steam Infusion retains more flavour top-notes than a conventionally cooked sauce. This paired with the enhanced creamy mouthfeel allowed us to reduce the yoghurt without negatively impacting the flavour. The sauce was more rounded in flavour, glossier and tastier without the need of extra salt, sugar or dairy.

Reformulation to meet these reduced salt, calorie and sugar targets needn’t feel onerous. With Steam Infusion, we adapt recipes to maintain the indulgent tastes that consumers love, while reducing some of the less healthy ingredients that have long since fallen out of favour. We can run trials at our test centre at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) with your recipes and offer advice on how to reformulate to best meet these new health targets.
— Chris Brooks, Development Chef, OAL

Meet salt, sugar and calorie reduction targets with Steam Infusion! Get in touch for reformulation support today.