America’s food landscape is one of many twists and turns. Cultural diversity, ethnic tastes and flavors and the ascent of regional cuisines have set the stage for the introductions of boundless varieties and combinations of chilled and refrigerated foods.

Microwavable packaging finds itself as an element of change gaining some traction at retail with microwavable meals, according to a source that shares an interesting market perspective. The assertion is that younger shoppers have more affinity for fresh than frozen in their meal preferences and may well be creating a category of ready meals. It doesn’t dwell in the meat section where center-of-the-plate proteins reside or in the full-service deli, but more of a self-service deli with end caps and displays near the deli area.

Convenience and impulse remain its primary drivers because time is the one thing we can’t produce. Speed, selection and a meal we don’t have to create, but can take home, pop into the microwave, then heat and eat, oddly enough still rules.  The foodie in each of us may not be satisfied, but given lifestyles as they are, it’s what works.

Generally, consumers still are resistant to proteins cooked from raw in microwaves, but there are reports of fish being cooked in microwavable packaging that is tasty and easy. It is not something that leaps easily into our minds, but packaging technology is less limiting in facilitating quality food preparation than our personal preconceptions and notions. In fact, great strides are being made in rigid formats with trays that more closely resemble plates and help to give a single diner a better meal experience over eating from something that reminds them of a ground beef tray.

Most of the rigid stock is polypropylene although to give shoppers another preparation option some processors offer a C-PET format that is can work in a conventional or microwave oven. Research indicates that less than 10 percent of consumers are likely to use a conventional oven, but C-PET does ensure all of the bases are covered.

Candidly, microwaveable materials are fine and in good shape. There are very few performance gaps or unmet needs with, perhaps, a single exception that would be a game-changer if it happens. Apparently, the holy grail of packaging innovation in the field centers on keeping foods crispy in a microwave, according to the source. Even he admits that’s a big ask, so don’t hold your breath.

Real sustained growth of microwavable packaging is not inhibited by technology. It is slowed by inconsistent or non-existent communications. Shoppers must know that, with every purchase, the food tastes great. They must understand where and how it fits into their lifestyles, and they must be certain the food is safe.

The irony here is we have stepped afield from packaging technology and landed fully in the domain of marketing, a discipline just as daunting and complicated. But there are so many good stories to tell and to sell. Let’s get at it.  NP