Convenience products enjoy great popularity with consumers throughout the world. Changing consumer habits and social trends, a growing working population and a rising number of single households, a greater level of mobility, fewer cooking skills and greater disposable income, all of these are increasing the demand worldwide for prepared or ready-cooked food. In aspiring economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, the middle class is growing rapidly and with it the number of working women. The analysts at Future Market Insights predict that there will be double-digit annual growth rates up to 2020 in the sale of convenience foods in these markets¹.
The growth in Europe is significantly slower, because the sale of convenience products is already very high: with a volume of around 2.8 billion euros, the UK is the second largest market worldwide for convenience products after the USA². The turnover among food retailers in Germany was around one billion euros³ in 2013.
The selection of retail convenience products is as diverse as the target groups. It extends from bite-sized fruit portions as snacks between meals right through to ready-to-cook marinated meat and even completely chilled or frozen ready-meals, which can be heated or fully cooked in their packaging in the oven or microwave. In order to survive in a competitive market, most manufacturers also increasingly have niche markets, for example low-price meals and allergen-free or bio products.
In addition to the content, the packaging also plays a decisive role in the success of convenience products. It is used as brand recognition, as well as presenting the ready-to-serve food in an attractive way, and it therefore conveys the promise of enjoyment. And last but not least, information about ingredients and cooking instructions can be shown on the packaging. Opening aids or separate pack compartments open up other design possibilities.
These different requirements can be fulfilled by either thermoformed packaging solutions or tray packs. Thanks to striking pack design in various shapes and sizes, food producers can differentiate themselves from their competitors at the point of sale. They can produce packs, which are either displayed in a stack format on the shelf or alternatively as hanging or stand-up packs.
Multi-compartment trays enable different food components to be packed separately from each other, allowing the consumer to add prepared sauces, dressings or spices during the cooking or immediately before serving. The packs can also be equipped with various functions: for example a salad, its dressing and eating utensil can be packed in different compartments, and the lid designed in such a way, that it can be used as a plate. Opening aids such as peel corners meet the requirement for easy handling. Individual food portions that are not to be consumed immediately can be kept safely in reclosable packs.
As important as attractive presentation at the point of sale is for the competitiveness of the product, it is the protective properties and shelf life extension provided by the food packaging, which are ultimately decisive for its suitability and success. Thermoformed packs and trays score highly: they are rigid enough to protect the products against mechanical effects. A high degree of seal seam strength prevents liquid components from escaping from the pack, and this also ensures the product does not dry out. The packs can be evacuated or provided with modified atmosphere to extend the shelf life of the product.
The benefits of tray packs include the fact, that non-thermoformable materials, such as those used in aluminium or coated board trays, can be run on traysealers. Temperature-resistant plastic trays, such as those made from CPET or PP, can also be used on these machines.
Mylar® COOK can be offered for the thermoforming packaging of prepared food, which is ready to cook in the oven or microwave. This thermoformable film, which can be run on all standard MULTIVAC thermoforming packaging machines, is suitable for packing meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and bakery products. The ready-to-eat prepared meals can be stored as chilled or frozen. The seal seam of the pack opens by itself during the cooking process, as soon as a certain pressure is reached within the pack. The moisture than evaporates and the browning process begins. The constant heat transfer ensures consistent results and reduces the cooking time by up to 20 percent.
Mylar® COOK not only accelerates the cooking process, it also simplifies cleaning after cooking, since hands, cooking utensils and the oven remain clean when the food is being cooked in the pack. This cooking method also retains the taste, nutrition and inherent product moisture, allowing the use of salt and spices to be reduced by up to 20 percent.
Mylar® COOK films are certified for direct food contact in high-temperature applications up to 220 °C: they also comply with the directives of the European Union (EU), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Thanks to its wide product range, MULTIVAC can respond to the individual wishes of customers and develop tailor-made solutions. MULTIVAC accompanies its customers along the entire path towards the ideal pack, from the first idea about the concept and material selection right through to the technical implementation on the packaging line. The complete infrastructure for this, including consultation on packaging development, is available at the MULTIVAC Training & Innovation Center in Wolfertschwenden. Here customers can produce sample packs with original product and film, allowing the functionality of the packs to be tested and the packaging procedure then adapted to the customer’s requirements.
¹ Future Market Insights: Convenience Foods Market: Global Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment 2014 – 2020, published in December 2015
² Source: Key Note, 2013. Ready Meals: Market Report Plus 2013, fourteenth ed. Key Note.
³ Statista, de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/294791/umfrage/umsatz-mit-convenience-im-leh-in-deutschland-nach-produktgruppen/