In summary Updated shelf stable formats change perceptions on preserved convenience food.
Identified Freezing or refrigeration is one modern convenience that has not only changed the way we package, sell and consume food, it has also shifted the way we perceive food products in terms of how healthy or “fresh” they seem to be. In a way, items such as fruits, vegetables and other perishables tend to be regarded higher than chilled and frozen counterparts.
According to a report by the American Frozen Food Institute and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), while frozen food has certainly made significant headway in terms of product line-up and innovation, “the category is still seen as a ‘second fiddle’ to fresh produce and perceived more as a back-up option.” Moreover, FMI’s research shows that many consumers still associate the temperature-regulated category with words like ‘pizza’ and products generally perceived as ‘unhealthy.’
Because of these consumer attitudes, F&B manufacturers and industry players are finding new and creative ways to extend the shelf-life of non-refrigerated, ready-to-eat food and veering away from the frozen food aisle, proving that the terms “shelf-stable” and “fresh” may not be counter-intuitive after all. Asian Consumer Intelligence, with data from flavor tracker Capchavate, rounds up evidence of this growing trend and brings to light relevant product launches and technological advancements from the “TV-dinner” movement.
In October 2018, US brand Scramblers made a strong case on crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter for conveniently packaged ready-to-eat eggs aimed at breakfast lovers everywhere. The clincher being that these Omelet Bars that came in flavours such as Bacon Egg & Cheese and Spinach & Feta, needed zero refrigeration and required no cooking with an astonishing shelf-life of 12 months. Made with free-range whole eggs, the company claimed to have developed a process to create these fully cooked, incredibly moist breakfast bars without chemical preservatives, therefore upholding its “clean label” and “healthy” positioning. The protein-rich bar can actually be left at room temperature, or inside an office desk or gym bag without spoiling.
With a promise to deliver the products to its backers and pledgers by January 2019, the developers and scientists pushing for this keto-friendly, nutrition-packed, savory snack soon turned their all-natural recipe into packaged reality. With wholesome ingredients such as pasture-raised organic eggs, smoked bacon, grass-fed ghee and dried scallions, it turned quite a few health-conscious heads with its launch and raised the bar for on-the-go food options in the market.
Scramblers’ successful run at Kickstarter only confirms research findings from a 2018 L.E.K. Consumer F&B Study (a global analytics and business strategy consulting firm) surveying more than 1,600 participants on their consumption patterns. The numbers show that among all the food claims that are important to consumers, having “no artificial ingredients” and “no preservatives” hold the top two spots.
In April 2019, another company making headlines for their pioneering food concepts in shelf-stability landed in Australia. Upton’s Naturals, a vegan-friendly brand known for its creative use of jackfruit as a main source of plant-based protein, released the first vegan shelf-stable pre-cooked mac ‘n’ cheese product with an additional bacon variant. Each package of their ready-to-consume Ch’eesy Mac and Ch’eesy Bacon Mac contains ridged pasta and a pouch of nutritional yeast-based cheese that can be prepared in the pan or heated for just 60 seconds in the microwave. The brand also highlights their product’s low-sugar, dairy-free, and artificial-flavoring-free claims, giving this conveniently positioned comfort food a unique edge over its close competitors.
In February 2019, American-made Right Rice also launched a first-of-its-kind shelf-stable “real food” product that entices health buffs with its use of vegetable-derived grains and plant-based proteins. The white-rice alternative, made of lentils, chickpeas and peas, targets carb-watchers and rice-eaters with better-for-you claims and a texture and taste-profile that mimics the real deal. Released in four flavours – Original, Lemon Pepper, Spanish and Garlic Herb – the fiber-rich product cooks faster than traditional grains and keeps consumers feeling fuller longer.
Convenience, coupled with a solid health positioning, are the main drivers behind this new breed of shelf-stable products that put a spin on what’s perceived as fresh food. More exciting technological advancements in the realm of packaging materials and new sterilizing processes are brewing to ensure that this momentum does not slow down. According to an online article in Food and Drink International published Sept. 30, 2019, scientists have already been successful in their attempts to develop food solutions, such as enhanced packaging, that could keep ready-to-eat macaroni and cheese edible at room temperature for a game changing three years (as opposed to regular commercial packaging that keeps food safe for only 12 hours).
“We need a better barrier to keep oxygen away from the food and provide longer shelf-life similar to aluminium foil and plastic laminate pouches,” said Shyam Sablani, who is leading the team at Washington State University working to create a better protective film. “We’ve always been thinking of developing a product that can go to Mars, but with technology that can also benefit consumers here on Earth.”
So what? In a parallel trajectory, we see developments in other food components such as specific strains of shelf-stable probiotics being integrated into oatmeal and nutrition bars – a useful tool for health-focused brands to add a wellness boost to their products.