Packaging One-Person Ready-Meals

Photo courtesy Japanese restaurant Moomin Café, Tokyo

Photo courtesy Japanese restaurant Moomin Café, Tokyo

The modern lifestyle of most consumers has radically changed their way of eating a meal. The roughly 20 meals per week, as was the norm in the past, are either eaten alone, often even in solitude or replaced by some snacking on-the-go, while driving, walking or sitting at their desk. More than half of lunches are eaten alone, and the need for quick and simple meals and snacks is the key. Dining en famille is a becoming a rarity.

Consequently this solo eating and drinking behaviours trigger a re-thinking in terms of new products, packaging, and positioning.

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And we see it in the market. Was recently a food tray with a ready-meal intended for 2 persons, in these days we see the appearance of stand-up pouches and other flexibles with complete ready-meals targeting the solo eater.

I selected three recently introduced ready-meals in a one-person flexible packaging. And you will agree with me, that they are setting a very impressive trend for the future.

Stand-up pouch that mixes sauce and pasta during microwaving
Italian packaging system manufacturer Goglio introduced the Fres-Cook, a patented microwaveable packaging for ready-to-eat meals with the twist that the contents automatically are mixed during microwaving.

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The packaging is a stand-up pouch with two compartments, of which the bottom one contains e.g. pasta and the top one the pasta-sauce. During heating in the microwave the steam will open the V-shaped seal between the two compartments, allowing the sauce to flow over the pasta. If the steam pressure increases further, the upper seal of the stand-up pouch opens on two sides so that the overpressure can disappear in a controlled way.

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The microwaveable stand-up pouch stands in a paperboard tray, allowing consumers to pick it up from the microwave with their hands without burning them. The stand-up pouch has a pre-cut laser notch so that consumers can easily open the packaging and with the included cutlery eat the content.
Goglio provides a complete system for the Fres-Cook packaging, which consists of a GNova filling and sealing machine, a cartoning machine for the trays and various multilayer films for the pre-formed stand-up pouches.

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The selection of films include films with an aluminium layer, PET AIOx or EVOH, while hot-filling, gas injection or a valve applicator unit can be added to the packaging system.

Layered Selections
From all market studies we learn that consumers desire fresh ingredients when it comes to prepared foods. Even so that, shoppers for prepared foods actually want the final result on their table having composed and readied by themselves.

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In answer to this market request, Sandridge Food Corporation, a family-owned refrigerated foods manufacturer located in Medina, Ohio, launched a new line of products they’ve suitably called Layered Selections. The new line consists of freshly prepared entrees and side dishes with an inventive “new to market” layering concept. The company targets the food savvy, yet time-starved consumer, who looks for fresh, minimally processed, hand-made quality food, but does not have the time to shop for individual ingredients and prepare them.

Each product is produced in small batches using a strategic and proprietary layering technique that preserves the integrity of the individual ingredients.
Once the products are mixed, the individual components come to life, producing a superior texture and a ‘just made’ taste and appearance. Consumers can use every recipe as is or add a star ingredient to express their creativity.

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The company claims that “It’s unparalleled to any refrigerated prepared side and entree on the market today”.

The line of Layered Selections is merchandised in clear, stand-up pouches, and the content serves a meal for 1-2 people, while preparation is quick and easy.
The consumer just has to open the BPA-free stand-up pouch, pour the content into a bowl and stir, then heat the bowl in the microwave or serve cold (depending on the product).

High-end ready meals for health-conscious consumers
Chefs Diet, a New York City-based producer of premium ready meals for health-conscious and calorie-counting customers launched its products in a packaging that enables the food to be prepared, shipped, sold, and heated in the same pouch.

The food is cooked fresh, and then blast-chilled to preserve flavour and quality. Next, each meal plate is sealed using the Cryovac Simple Steps Microweavable Vacuum Skin Tray Lidding.

During heating the film expands to form a bubble, and then self-vents and relaxes over the food

During heating the film expands to form a bubble, and then self-vents and relaxes over the food

This Cryovac system allows Chefs Diet to apply a film over the prepared food and vacuum all the air out evenly over the plate. The result is a plate that showcases the consumer every ingredient.
By eliminating all of the oxygen evenly over the entire plate Skin Tray Lidding technology all but eliminates freezer burn, moisture and ice crystals, to allow Chefs Diet to give its clients a premium presentation each and every time.

The Simple Steps packaging has a self-venting feature, with a vacuum seal to eliminate air and keep in fresh flavour. Its steam-assisted cooking capability reportedly helps preserve flavour and cook evenly to maintain quality.

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For the consumer the convenience is obvious. He just has to remove any outer packaging (if any is used) and place the tray still covered by the film in the microwave. There is no need to peel off or puncture the film. During heating the film expands to form a bubble, and then self-vents and relaxes over the food. After removing the tray or plate from the microwave and let it cool for two minutes, the film can be peeled off, and the food served.

Are we getting lonelier? We see more and more one serve, one person, one moment packaging entering the market. That’s a profitable development for the packaging industry, but at the other hand, I wonder. are we forgetting to share, to socialise and are the promotions of, among others, Coca Cola not reaching the consumer? Do we move to a standard one-person/one snack/one meal/one toy packaging? And above all that: gender-neutral?

I think the action, as visualised in the cover photo, of the “Stuffed Animal Depression & Solo Dining” by Japanese restaurant Moomin Café, is a mirror of our day to day life. Let’s not forget to socialise and not only virtually, but also physically. The packaging industry needs more diversification.

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