Ready meals have traditionally been seen as the unhealthier option with more calories, fat, salt and sugar. But as consumers lead even busier lives, convenience has become more important than ever. And one trend at the forefront of this move, is healthy on the go options.
Here, we explore how exactly food manufacturers are changing up their processes to meet consumer demand and empower the on the go lifestyle.
One key factor in these new healthy alternatives has been replacing those ingredients with higher percentages of fat, sugar, salt and calories. For example, cheese is high in both saturated fat and salt. Whilst it is a common ingredient, it’s not needed in every recipe, so some factories have removed it altogether. Others have instead switched the type of cheese, so the meal is healthier, but still has flavour.
Reducing salt has also been a core part of improving ready meals. Artificial trans fats are now rarely found in the dishes, and manufacturers are more frequently opting for organic, 100% natural ingredients. In some situations, food manufacturers may produce an entirely different product altogether to create a healthier meal. For example, there was a Dragons’ Den success story in Kirsty’s, which has a focus on healthy chilled ready meals.
It’s not just a case of putting healthier ingredients in ready meals – consumers need to know what’s in them too. Food manufacturers are actioning this by providing clear packaging both on the products and online.
This has another benefit too – putting consumers with allergens first. It can also clearly display when a product is vegan or vegetarian. Both of these are increasing in popularity, as is being a ‘flexitarian’. As meat is higher in calories, and are present in 77% of ready meals, many organisations are now providing vegetable alternatives and other sources of protein, such as lentils.
Whilst there’s certainly been progress in recent years, manufacturers could still be doing more to make ready meals healthier. For example, meals low in calories aren’t always nutritious if ingredients are being cut. Consumers may choose them because of the lower numbers, but they still need to provide the necessities in terms of nutritional value.
It’s also important to have responsible marketing – not just meeting UK advertising regulations but being honest so consumers can make healthier decisions. While technology is playing a large part in the process, the right personnel will be crucial. Hiring specialists is necessary – especially in those candidate-short markets like packaging.
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