Ready to Eat (RTE) Meals: More than TV Dinners

Ready to Eat (RTE) Meals: More than TV Dinners

In the day when time is worth more than money ready to eat meals are enthralling to the consumer? We are all so pressed for time and it never seems like we have enough. We want a “good for you” meal solutions that are convenient and craveable. For these reasons convenience with nutritional relevance and craveable flavor is imperative. The category of Ready to Eat (RTE) meals is on trend and delivers the consumer attributes for a fast paced consumer lifestyle.
In today’s time frozen Microwaveable TV dinners are a blast from the past. New technology is available to us. Product development has many new technical platforms of RTE meal replacements. Today we have vacuum sealed packaging (VSP), High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP), vacuum sealed refrigerated packaging, frozen/fresh style retail and simply made fresh and served fresh. The later has a very short shelf life but can be the most attractive from a “lack of processing” standpoint. It is closes to the farm to table and is not processed food which both meet the current millennials needs and desires. Flavor will always drive the consumers repeat business and interest.
In store Home Meal Replacement (HMR) from large chains, like Whole Foods, has taken this category to another level offering, a variety of specialty meals mostly made from scratch in back of the house or on site. They offer a range of American Regional Trends that we refer to as “Flavor ART™” a term we have coined as the focus on American cuisine. Flavor ART™ has become recognized as a rich form of flavor and culture. Examples are; slow cooked southern greens with pork hammock or bacon, stewed beans to fried chicken from the south. Asian inspired pacific northwestern roasted salmon with a fragrant ginger miso-soy glaze served with steamed bok choy with a selection of flavored rice. New Orleans style gumbo, jambalaya, étouffee, red beans and rice and andouille sausage fit well into this category too. The south east is known for the Floribean cuisine which is a combination of Florida fresh ingredients with bold Caribbean flavors. In the New York area you might find Italian favorites portraying the specialties of Sicilian style fresh tomato based pastas laced with fresh basil topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese “caprese style”. In Buffalo New York a Hungarian ricotta and herb stuffed banana pepper served with a marinara sauces is delicious. You may find a rich lamb ragu with soft polenta that pairs perfectly with roasted Brussel sprouts topped with Parmesan Regiano almost anywhere in the country the RTE format. A beautiful Midwestern pot roast with seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes with gravy might hit the spot for some when desiring comfort food that sticks to your ribs. The various types of BBQ from the Carolinas, Texas, Memphis are perfect RTE options. The vibrant cuisine in California will be boasting with fresh flavors and texture with the almost year around access to fresh ingredients. These flavor ART™ favorites will all show up in a RTE format in various formats from fresh HMR to more processed VSP product. There are many grocers offering these options.
Grocery operators like Mariano’s, Giant Eagle, Kroger’s, Plum Market, Central Market, HEP and Wegman’s to name a few offer a wide selection of RTE and HMR. Their selections will be based on their local market taste preferences. Controlling flavor, waste and quality will always be paramount to the grocer operator.

“Grocerant”, Grocer embraces Restaurant Quality

The whole grocery experience bringing restaurant quality to the grocery is being referred to as “Grocerant”. We are fascinated with this segment of the industry. The grocery operators are seeking the knowledge of restaurant chefs to help assist with creating an efficient menu. Just like a restaurant food cost, labor cost and disposables are critical to control. Creating a menu that will be attractive to the market, that is flavorful, handled safely, packaged efficiently and is costed perfectly.

Delivery Systems

Grub Hub is changing the world of dinner options. In metropolitan areas they will deliver from almost any restaurant. In Chicago we can order from over 75 restaurants ranging from Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Cambodian, French, Spanish, Turkish, Japanese to all the ART™.
Door to door organics, Marley Spoon, all deliver ready to prepare and eat solutions. This service has unlimited options and possibilities ranging in flavor and nutritional opportunities.

Ethnically-Inspired Cooking techniques

The RTE meals that are the most effectively created are all based on similar cooking techniques ranging in a variety of flavors. For example; Asian, Italian, Spanish, German, British, Indian, ART™, Mexican, Latin and French cuisines are all practical and achievable with modern day processing technologies. There are a dozen cooking techniques that are options with several most common. For example; moist heat cooking techniques such as, stewing, braising, poaching, steaming and en papiote can be prepared and served with the most consistency and quality of flavors and textures. The moist heat creates a product that maintains texture and flavor providing a good platform for this RTE category. The dry heat cooking techniques can also be used and delivered in a quality manner. These cooking techniques are; roasting, deep frying, pan frying, sautéing, smoking, grilling and stir frying. These techniques may include a sauce to help maintain moisture of the protein. For example; a grilled chicken breast glaze with a hickory BBQ sauce served with a roasted sweet potato puree and sautéed spinach will be flavorful, maintain integrity and look appetizing. Another example is a pacific northwester Asian style roasted salmon with a miso ginger glaze served with a rice pilaf and steamed bok choy. As you can see this option uses several cooking techniques in one which is common.  Here is a list of other on trend Center of the Plate (COP) flavor profiles in a matrix format.
Center of the Plate – RTE, Flavor Profiles by Ethnic Cuisine 1.1

Italian Asian German Mexican Indian
Beef or lamb ragu served with soft polenta and sautéed spinach
Beef meatballs with marinara served with pasta
Ginger, garlic, and scallion soy chicken stir fry with red bell peppers, sugar snap peas, and carrots
Kung Pao pork
Beef and brocolli
Spätzle and
Braised red cabbage
Pollo with a Poblano salsas verde topped with Chihuahua cheese Chicken or shrimp Tikka Masala
Tandoori chicken, basmati rice
Fettuccini alfredo with roasted chicken and broccoli Beef and broccoli with brown rice, or sushi rice with rich brown soy gravy Beer braised brats with sauerkraut Chicken chimichurri Rogan Josh a braised dish with a gravy, onions, spices, yogurt and garlic (goat or lamb)
Roasted beef with soft polenta, rosemary beef sauce and broccoli rabe Thai Curries (red, green, yellow) served with vegetables and a rice side. Bold flavored sauces with as much heat as the market can bear Thuringian kartoffelklösse dumplings or the walking dumpling
Eintopf is a one pot stew similar to an Irish stew
Seafood enchiladas served with rice and beans is perfectly paired with fresh guacamole on the side Aloo gobi is a cauliflower with potatoes and garam masala spice

Asian twist

Some fresh flavors such as; ginger, scallions (GGS), roasted garlic, lemongrass, tamarind, galangal, kefir lime, miso, shallots, fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, tarragon, mint) and yuzu all can be used to enhance the flavor of a product and will hold up to the right packaging and processing. Each of these ingredients can be sourced internationally is the raw form or in a derivative flavor system.
Many sides dishes come in the form of a starch based ingredients. We have listed serveral types of starches found in today’s RTE meal solutions.
Starch Side Dishes 1.2

Mashed potatoes with real butter and cream Rice pilaf with brown, Jasmin or basmati rice prepared with a variety of aromatics Yucca mashed or served in a wedge or slice seasoned similar to potatoes. The texture is unique and waxy Sweet potatoes with butter, maple syrup or brown sugar Yams with butter and brown sugar or served plain
Soft or hard polenta with or without butter Risotto with various flavors that match the concept (mushroom, corn, squid ink, tomato based, cheese) Smashed potatoes with a hard sear accented with fresh rosemary, cracked black pepper and solar salt Dark greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collard & mustard greens Cooked beans, whole or refried, lentils (pulses) source of protein for vegetarian
Tator tots made with inclusions or plain have great texture Macaroni and cheese with a cheese blend or singular cheese au gratin is optional Variety of pasta shapes with simple sauce Fingerling roasted potatoes with rosemary and olive oil Butternut or acorn squash seasoned to taste with butter and S&P
Cous cous Hominy Orzo Rice noodles Ramen noodles

Vegetable Centric Trend

Vegetable centric dishes are on trend and can work well in this category. A wide range of vegetables work from carrots, Brussel sprouts, spinach, cauliflower, winter squash, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli, beets, turnips, parsnips and eggplant. These vegetables can be accompanied with a sauce or only seasoned with aromatics then salt and pepper. They can be left in a natural form or mashed, sliced, diced or shredded. Non-traditional noodles made from vegetables are simpler now with the Kitchen Aide spiralizers. You can make these noodles to order right on the line if wanted to. They have great texture, flavor, nutrition, taste and color. They are a great substitute for a gluten free option or a reduced carbohydrate diet.
Vegetable cooking techniques 1.3

Sautéed Roasted Stir fried Stewed Rotisserie
Steamed Fried Poached grilled BBQ’d

A variety of sauces are on trend for center of the plate proteins, side dishes and appetizers. The sauces add a dimension of flavor, texture, spice and color. The sauce can balance out the dish when appropriate. The sauce can balance out the flavors and contract taste as well as temperature. At times a sauce will add spice to a dish and other times the lower pH will stimulate the palate and make the mouth water. Adding color and texture play a role in making the dish craveable. Here is a list of sauces for center of the plate and vegetable side dishes that are trending.
On trend – Center of the Plate and Side Dish Sauces 1.4

California walnut and leek pureed cream sauce with fresh thyme Sriracha and honey aioli, gastrique, or vinaigrette Parmesan béchamel Natural beef, pork or chicken jus
Yogurt based tikka masala Truffled beef broth Puree of beer braised onions with Dijon mustard Charred lemon beurre blanc
Tangerine and thyme Aioli Moonshine BBQ sauce Yuzu and lobster butter broth Apple cider demi with cracked black pepper
Traditional sauces;
Au Poive
Béarnaise Gorgonzola beef demi Bordelaise
Picatta (caper sauce) Arriabiatta (spicy tomato) Roasted garlic aioli Blood orange and champagne vinaigrette with chervil

Get Pickled

Fresh RTE meals have a distinct advantage delivering fresh flavors and bold taste with on trend flavor systems. Pickled vegetables and fruits have been taking a main stage for bolstering up the sour taste and making the mouth water. This type of garnish adds bold taste but does not hold up to frozen RTE meal solutions. Everything from radishes, cucumbers, banana peppers, red onions, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage to pickled fennel are the rage. A variety of vinegars, spices and herbs can add depth to a pickle. Balancing the sourness with a sweet ingredient like a honey variety, agave nectar, fruit juice or plane sucrose. A pickle adds a crunchy texture, mouthwatering taste and bold contrast. These are ways to add excitement to RTE foods.

Snacking can be a Meal

Snacking has become a meal part. So smaller portions for full flavored products that provide value, are convenient and taste great are in. Items like hummus is offered now in many flavors. Hummus can accompany a wide range of vegetables, crackers and the like to exponentially increase options for RTE meal solutions or snacking occasions.
The convenient and packed bar market seems to be expanding into savory and more complete proteins accompanied with other “good for you” nutrient dense products. Combining protein with fruit, vegetables and high density ingredients that taste good is on trend. This category of RTE meals or snacks is for the on the move individual.

In Summary…

Overall the global world of RTE meals is expanding with flavors and technology as time passes. With the demand for convenience, nutritious solutions, simple to clean up and flavorful we will see an expanded effort to provide better quality products through technology. The emphasis on authenticity, locally grown, full flavor, all with a healthy halo will inspire product developers for years to come. Remember; “It is all about the flavor that sells!”
What do RTE meals mean to you? We’d love to hear what you think – get in touch.


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