Eat on the Run
By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Microwaveable packaging lets consumers eat without disrupting their busy schedules.
On-the-go consumers are expecting more from their meals. They want it fast, they want it tasty, and they want the packaging to add to a positive eating experience. As convenience continues to be a top consumer priority, processors are developing more microwave-friendly meal solutions.
Two of the country’s largest meat processors have recently added products with microwaveable packaging to appeal to those busy consumers. Oscar Mayer, which first introduced its microwaveable Fast Franks last year, followed up with Deli Creations Hot Sandwich Melts. The sandwich kits contain all the necessary ingredients to create a hot sandwich, from the luncheon meat and cheese to the bun and condiments. They are available in five varieties: Shaved Turkey & Cheddar Dijon, Shaved Oven Roasted Ham & Cheddar, Shaved Honey Ham & Swiss, Shaved Steakhouse Cheddar and Shaved Turkey Monterey.
“Consumers are looking for great taste and convenience,” says Sydney Lidner, associate director, corporate affairs, for the Madison, Wis.-based processor. “This means moving from purchasing sandwich components to complete meals. Microwave packaging delivers on those needs.”
Hormel Foods of Austin, Minn., recently launched Hormel Compleats, microwaveable meals available in more than 20 varieties, such as Swedish Meatballs, Beef Steak Tips with Mashed Potatoes and Tuna Casserole. The line was previously known as Hormel Microwave Trays and has been the fastest-growing product in the company’s grocery product division, tripling in sales in the past three years.
“The $452 million microwave meal segment is increasing at double-digit rates,” said Brett Asay, product manager. “Hormel Compleats fills an underserved but growing category niche. With the strong Hormel brand name and heritage in quality meats and as an innovator in shelf-stable technology, we are in a unique position to meet consumer demand for speedy, portable and satiating meals.”
Microwaveable-ready and tasty
Oscar Mayer’s Lidner points out that the microwaveable meal solutions not only have to heat up quickly, they also have to taste good to find favor with consumers. “For example, if they microwave a hot sandwich melt such as Oscar Mayer Deli Creations, they want the bun to be soft and warm,” she says. “In product development we continue to listen to consumers, and they continue to tell us they seek convenience. As a result, we see growth in this area.”
The company’s Fast Franks and Deli Creations products both include a specially designed microwaveable tray. In order to add to the eating experience, they also use a proprietary rising dough technology that was adapted from Oscar Mayer’s pizza business. The result is a sandwich or hot dog bun that is soft and warm, rather than hard or tough to chew.
In the case of the Fast Franks, Oscar Mayer took one of the country’s most popular items in its hot dogs and came up with a way to preserve the taste and increase the convenience. “They are ready in 35 seconds, portable and taste great,” Lidner points out.
Introduced last summer, the Fast Franks have captured a two percent share of the hot dog category. “[They are] clearly a benefit to consumers and to Oscar Mayer as a meat processor,” she adds.
In announcing its new Compleats meals, Hormel pointed to a cubicle culture survey report by the American Dietetic Association, which noted that 75 percent of office workers eat at their desk at least two or three times per week.
The company touted the key features — speed, satisfaction and consistent heating — to appeal to every office worker who ever spent five minutes heating a frozen meal only to bite into a frozen chunk of chicken. Its ten-ounce Compleats packages can be microwaved in the tray in 90 seconds and do not need to be frozen or refrigerated.