Flavor Innovations in Prepared Meals

Let’s face it: consumers are facing challenging times. Families are tutoring children at home while working a full-time job in front of a laptop in the bedroom. It’s not surprising that they are reaching for prepared meals at the end of a long and exhausting day. Today’s prepared meals are a far cry from the TV dinners of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and apple crisp on foil trays of the 1960’s. Consumers are now demanding a litany of improvements in taste, variety, and nutritional value.


Focus on Natural Ingredients


Whoever is shopping for tonight’s dinner will spend more time eyeing the ingredients offered in each meal. Brands that want to capture this group will remove additives and preservatives in the selections and promote organic and GMO-free qualities. Including wholesome ingredients such as antibiotic-free chicken will most likely land on the family dining table over the fried variety picked up at a fast-food takeout. Companies that sell products free of synthetic colors and flavors, and reduce the amount of sugar may increase sales.


Exploring International Flavors


Parents of today’s young family grew up as a generation familiar with ethnic foods at a young age, and they are bringing those tastes to the dinner table. Young adults who remember ramen noodles as a staple of college dorms are reaching for a more sophisticated take on the dish, especially if it can feed their family quickly. Mexican beans full of popping flavors of chili powder, cumin, and garlic will keep teens in the family happy. Packaged Cajun cuisine will leap from shelves when aromas of cayenne, pepper, oregano, and paprika follow.


Plant-Based Meals


Branding meals as plant-based rather than vegetarian may bolster the appeal for those consumers who desire more meat-free alternatives. More people are motivated to limit their meat intake and are leaning into a plant-focused diet. Including the protein count of each prepared meal may encourage those not ready to give up meat altogether. Noting that antioxidant-rich tomatoes and zucchini provide high levels of fiber and iron may entice them even more.


Airline Travel


While most people aren’t taking to the sky yet, the airlines are adjusting their food service for those who must. Pre-packaged snacks and bottled water appear to keep most travelers content, especially if the snacks are healthy. Airlines would do well to increase more nutritious options on long-distance flights as those that have done so are receiving accolades from consumers.


Some people have the time to bake bread during these trying times, but for most consumers, having a healthy, organic, and flavorful meal packaged to heat-and-eat is a luxury of the time.