The ready meal category is ripe for growth and likely will pull consumers from meal kits and frozen

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

The ready meal category is ripe for growth
The ready meal category in the US is set to explode in part as a natural evolution of the meal kit craze that taught consumers how to cook healthy, fresh food at home, but which still ultimately takes more time than many people have daily, according to one entrepreneur. 

“The big trend in the US and in Canada right now is meal kits, you know, encouraging people to cook at home at night and eat healthier, more well-rounded meals, but they still take a lot of time. You have to chop the vegetables and prepare the ingredients even though they are often pre-measured,”​ Lisa Sohanpal, the founder of Nom Noms World Food.

But as a frequent subscriber to meal kits and the mother of three young children, Sohanpal observed that “sometimes you need everything already chopped – you need the meal to be ready”​ with little effort.

She noted that the frozen meal aisle used to meet this need, but that after learning how to prepare fresh meals at home that aren’t packed with preservatives, sodium and added sugar many of the frozen meal options “seem quiet awful.”

The middle ground then is the ready meal category, but because of the focus by entrepreneurs on the meal kit category there are few options in this segment in the US, Sohanpal said.

Quoting the CEO of Cultivate Ventures who Sohanpal saw present at Rabobank’s FoodBytes! pitch slam in New York City in June, Sohanpal said retailers are aggressively looking for brands that can play in the ready meal space and cater to the busy consumer who does not want to go inside the supermarket to do their shopping, but rather just grab and go or pick up and go from the chilled section around the perimeter of the store.

Because there is a dearth of the brands in this space, Sohanpal said much of the ready meal category in the US is dominated by supermarkets bringing their own label and producing the standard meals at a cheaper price – which leaves the category ripe for disruption that Sohanpal is more than happy to provide.

She and her husband recently launched in the UK Nom Noms World Food as a way to provide healthy and wholesome meals that are “gentle and balanced enough for kids, but bursting with taste, flavor and texture for adults,” ​according to the company’s website.

Sohanpal added that she wanted to create meals that drew on different cultures around the world so that her three young children would grow up with a diverse pallet and appreciate other cuisines, as well as their own Indian heritage. She also wanted her children to engage with their food – something that is not easy with the increasingly popular pouches of pureed blends.

As such, she packaged the meals in brightly colored boxes that open like a suitcase with multiple compartments for the main course along with a vegetarian side dish, dip and bread. “The idea was that this gives kids a way of exploring through flavor, but also mixing, dipping, pouring, sprinkling and engaging with the food they are eating, rather than having their mac and cheese put in front of them and being told to eat. We wanted to further inspire children with the ingredients and eating habits of others around the world,”​ she explained.

The Nom Noms Minis, designed for children, were so popular in the UK that they spawned the Nom Nom Megas for adults – a slightly larger portion with more spice but which still reflects the health of the minis, Sohanpal said, noting that the meals are free from preservatives and additives, have no added salt or sugar, and are minimally processed.

Portion controlled and nutrient dense

While the diverse flavor profiles of Nom Noms meals will tempt consumers to keep coming back, each individual meal is portion controlled so that Americans can enjoy the meal without going overboard.

“The sizes of meals in America are so much bigger than in India,”​ and this is likely contributing to the country’s obesity crisis, Sohanpal said. “One company can’t tackle the obesity crisis on their own, but we can at least say we are helping by offering healthier choices and having portion control.”

Even though the calories are restricted, consumers will receive an extra helping of satiating fiber because “every dish is boosted naturally with fruit and vegetables to give it high health credentials,”​ Sohanpal said.

Recalling her and her husband’s medical backgrounds, she added, “the nutrition side of things is part of the DNA of the brand and while all the major companies, such as Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s, are reformulating to be healthier, we just started from scratch making it healthy.”

This includes forgoing added salt and sugar – a challenge for any dish, but especially classic comfort foods from India, such as buttered chicken.

Sohanpal said she hired a culinary spice expert to help develop spice blends that make the dishes brim with flavor even without the added salt and sugar that many American’s are used to eating. She also hides vegetables in unexpected places – such as carrots in the butter chicken sauce – and swaps healthier ingredients when possible, such as yogurt instead of cream, for an added nutritional boost.

Sohanpal also found that using the right ingredients helped reduce the need for added sugar.

“Specific types of fruit give specific types of sweetness that complements the dish. So, a mango chutney without any sugar is pretty amazing. We add apricots in there and have a puree of mango as well as fresh pieces of mango”​ to replicate a traditional chutney recipe with a healthier nutrition profile, she said.

Rapid expansion

Hitting so many trends – healthy, global flavors, convenience – it is no wonder that the consumer response to Nom Noms has been huge – prompting the young company to rapidly scale up.

“We are launching in five different countries,”​ and working with retailers to adapt the recipes to the local pallets, Sohanpal said.

She also is fine-tuning the packaging with ambitious plans to incorporate virtual reality to provide consumers a more broad perspective of the cultures from which their food comes.

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1 comment

Always a Need for Ready Meals

Posted by Stella Metsovas,

The acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon will set standards of ready meals in brick and mortar.

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