We just want things faster with no hassles. And that includes our meals.
Preparing them shouldn’t take a lot of time or thought, and we should be able to eat what we want, when and where we want it, and not be hostage to others’ schedules. Through creative tray, tray-sealing, and lid technologies, food processors are finding themselves equal to the challenge of keeping pace with consumers’ cravings for convenient meal solutions.
New open tray shape concepts that have more of a dinnerware feel — such as plates, rectangular plates, and oval casserole, to name a few — can hold a complete microwavable heat-and-eat meal with proteins like beef, pork, and fish accompanied by potatoes, rice or vegetables, or a single meal component like beef tips and gravy.
Tray-skin (VSP) film technology and efficient in-line tray-sealing equipment systems create an appetizing product presentation because the film forms tightly over the contours of the components, holding them in place, preventing them from mixing together and enabling shoppers to appreciate virtually every aspect of the product.
To enhance package integrity during distribution, one packaging equipment manufacturer has developed a secondary seal for its in-line tray-skin process. According to company sources, after the film forms over the product, a mechanical sealing head presses the film even tighter against the tray flange, creating a strong perimeter seal, virtually eliminating leakers and reducing customer claims.
Many of these prepared products are even finding their way into the retail frozen case, of all places, where they benefit from a long-established and efficient distribution system. But isn’t the frozen case where the dreaded and tasteless TV dinners hang out? That’s old-school thinking.
Because tray-skin packaging eliminates headspace, moisture and flavors are locked in the product so it tastes as good as advertised. Freezing also minimizes bacteria concerns.
Interestingly, there’s a sustainability story here too. Tray-skin eliminates a separate package in the tray for those beef tips and gravy mentioned earlier, plus a little re-engineering of the carton sleeve removes the need for a film overwrap.
In this same vein, dual-ovenable C-PET trays are becoming more and more attractive due to their versatility and the fact that they are 100% recyclable, which many retailers love. However, there is a price premium to bear.
It’s odd that 25 years ago, many of these concepts could been seen in the halls industry trade shows, but they were literally too far ahead of consumers’ lifestyles to capture much more than feigned interest.
Now with improved tray and material technologies, quality food can intersect lifestyles in practically any venue.