Ready meals are trending as consumer tastes and behavior change. Better technology in preserving food flavors and nutrition profiles have made them a hit with Asian consumers, writes RAJESWARI RAMANEE and the Asian Agribiz team.
In Indonesia, consumer behavior shifted with the pandemic and the development in new food processing technology, according to Head of Marketing for ready meals brand Makan Ku, Mahditya Putra Mahardhika.
He told Asian Agribiz that working from home has become a reality. This has raised levels of multitasking creating demand for work-life balance, which has shifted consumers’ eating habits towards healthier and convenient meals.
“Through Makan Ku ready meals, we provide practical and delicious Indonesian food that could be cooked easily with our self-heating pad technology or microwave,” said Mr Mahardhika.
This sub-brand of Indonesia’s Wong Solo Group has over 100 menus derived from Sabang to Merauke regions. The company produces traditional flavors like gudeg, rawon, balado chicken, woku chicken, beef rendang, and many more.
Makan Ku ready meals target college students, stay-home moms, travel enthusiasts, and young working professionals. “We are also trying to capture travelers once movement restrictions are lifted,” said Mr Mahardhika.
Authenticity is important in ready meals, according to Sri Lanka’s Ma’s Kitchen, which has been in the ready meals market for some time.
“The current market situation has given us the confidence to increase capacity for production of ready meals, both frozen and retort,” founder and Director Mario De Alwis shared with Asian Agribiz.
Ma’s Kitchen has been in the quick-meal solution business for years, but now it is moving down to ready-to-eat curries and ready meals. Mr Alwis said they are targeting busy urban consumers.
Working from home can be even more tiring and time-consuming, with many roles to fulfil at the same time. “So having quick and healthy meal options is appreciated,” he said.
The biggest challenge for Ma’s Kitchen has been to replicate the freshness and taste of home-cooked meals. Mr Alwis said they have been working on innovations that retain the flavor profile of a fresh meal.
“Our goal is to have a product that will compare to what you may make at home or have in a restaurant. Convenience isn’t enough, we want our range to be full-flavored and satisfying,” he said.
Safety and taste are key
Thailand’s S&P Syndicate, which operates the S&P restaurant chain, sells frozen ready meals under its Quick Meal brand, via its own restaurants and modern trade outlets.
COO Arth Prakhunhungsit told Asian Agribiz that the company saw high revenue growth in frozen ready meals last year during the first wave of Covid-19.
But this was offset by slower growth in the first half of 2021 amid intense competition. Many restaurants have started offering delivery services and this directly affects movement of frozen ready meals.
S&P targets working people and families and has performed well in office zones. “Consumers have many choices, and they want quick meals and safe food,” said Mr Arth.
S&P focuses on taste and variety. Its offerings include rice with chicken and basil, garlic rice with Korean barbecue pork, and spaghetti with carbonara sauce.
“The fresh taste must be retained once consumers microwave our frozen food,” Mr Arth said, adding that this is the core issue why all competitors push technology to set them apart and gain advantage.
Convenience and freshness
Saigon Food, a Vietnamese company that specializes in essential foods, has stepped up development of new product lines to meet Vietnam’s increasing demand for ready-to-heat (RTH) products during the pandemic.
Saigon Food has developed 13 RTH dishes in traditional and western cuisine to offer more options to consumers.
“We have developed ready meals since 2018, but this product line grew rapidly in 2020,” Nguyen Thanh Cao, Deputy Marketing Manager told Asian Agribiz.
Saigon Food also enhanced research on new food tastes and e-commerce sales channels to better serve consumers during the pandemic.
“We aim to support consumers, who may have limited time to shop. Our ready meals are ready within three minutes, so consumers can enjoy quick, nutritious, and delicious meals during the day. And with our online sales service, consumers can have their food delivered without going out,” said Mr Cao.
A key contributor to the freshness and convenience of Saigon Food’s products is the packaging. “We focus on compact packaging so products occupy less refrigerator space. The packaging is made of non-toxic packaging materials with high heat resistance,” said Mr Cao. “It also has to retain the products’ freshness and nutrition.”
Saigon Food uses Japanese quick frozen technology to keep food safe at -35 degrees. “Thanks to this technology, the nutritional value of the products is kept intact for up to nine months in the freezer without using preservatives,” said Mr Cao.
Globalizing regional products
Innovative packaging, flavor, and marination are key for ready meals, according to Ahmad Husaini, Managing Director of Malaysia’s ready meals producer MyChef.
MyChef produces pouches of meat-based rice or only meat gravy meals retailing at USD 3.0-5.6, sold under its own brand or for other brands. Its halal-ready meals are already in the retail, hospitality, and travel sectors.
“We have the raw ingredients supply and infrastructure to become a significant exporter of ready meals,” Mr Husaini said. “Having an abundance of fresh poultry gives us an advantage, while widespread halal certification makes food production companies well-structured for halal exports.”
Remote working has become commonplace and MyChef aims to set itself apart thru innovative, self-designed meal trays with two compartments (for meat gravy and rice) and an easily opened seal top. These can be stored at room temperature.
With easy-access and convenient food that replicate beloved flavors at their fingertips, it is no wonder consumers have embraced ready meals — and companies are willing to invest time and money to come up with innovative products.