In the last two years, there has been a justifiable increase in people staying in and eating at home. We saw a significant rise in meal kit purchases as more people were cooking themselves, and that trend is not slowing down. The meal kit delivery industry is estimated to be worth $11.6 billion by end of 2022. But preparing and cooking for themselves is running its course in some ways and ready meals are filling the void. Before the pandemic, the ready meal market was valued at $159.15 billion with a growth rate of 5.5%, and expected to increase to $244.29 billion by 2027. Key factors driving this industry growth include growing concern with shelf lives, premium additive-free foods, attractive packaging and nutritious options.
Ready-meal producers and their packaging manufacturers are now faced with a realm of new opportunities for innovation to meet this rising consumer demand. With legacy brands reporting significant increases in their sales, the logical middle ground between dining out and cooking at home are ready meals, which are bridging the gap between the two.
Also known as prepared meals, these pre-portioned and packaged trays come in a variety of types, sizes, and complexity. The range of possible ready-meals is only limited by one’s imagination and, of course, consumer demand. Prepared trays of cooked or ready-to-cook foods were already ubiquitous throughout American supermarkets well before the pandemic. Many retailers are now hoping to expand their offerings of ready meals to meet rising demand for these easy options.
As retailers continue to grapple with what offerings are best to meet consumer trends, questions in regard to production efficiency, food safety, and sustainability are also being raised and addressed. But for those companies who don’t have the benefit of a large-scale mass production system that can accommodate automated labeling and coding, some think they are left to use less efficient and attractive options like pressure sensitive labels.
One alternative innovation that has found success in the retail food production sector, and addresses all three of those questions, is ultra-sonic banding. Banding machines from ATS-Tanner Banding Systems has allowed companies like London-based fitness meal brand MunchFit to label and brand their prepared meals in an efficient and safe way. You can read all about their switch to banding here. So while it may be easy to put things like sustainability on the back burner when formulating new strategies, many retailers are already embracing it to appeal to eco-savvy consumers and gain that competitive edge.
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