« December 2007 Table of Contents
Product Spotlight: Ready-to-eat meals
Consumer demand for health, convenience drives sales of packaged meals
By April Forristall
December 01, 2007
Today's fast-paced, grab-and-go culture has elevated the
role of foods that fit the convenience bill. While some
consumers would prefer to eat healthful, home-cooked meals from
scratch, a growing number are opting for more convenient foods
that are still good for you. These demands have prompted
seafood companies to create ready-to-eat (RTE) or ready-to-cook
seafood options with high flavor profiles.
"[RTE meals are] first and foremost are convenient and good
tasting," says Murray Rosen, president of Seafood America. "I
think the health consideration is No. 3."
Seafood companies are developing products that fit the
healthful and convenient profile. "Retailers are looking for
this type of product, and seafood is an area where there's not
a lot of this happening," says Rosen, adding that the
refrigerated entrée category is approaching $2 billion and
growing at a rate of about 9 percent annually.
Seafood America, of Warminster, Pa., launched its Dockside
Classics line of refrigerated entrées two years ago. In 2006,
due to consumer demand and a recognition that the RTE category
would be more than a flash in the pan, the company introduced
its Dockside Classics Instant Gourmet line of fresh entrées,
including Shrimp Scampi, Shrimp Marinara and Fettuccini Alfredo
with Real Crab Meat, all of which can be prepared in three
minutes or less.
"We were looking for a next-generation product," explains
Rosen. "We wanted to do something with a more complete,
convenient, ready meal." Consumer response has been positive,
and the company is adding a fourth item, Lobster Ravioli in
Alfredo Sauce with a Touch of Tomato, in the spring.
Both Mar-Lees Seafood of New Bedford, Mass., and Amazing
Food Manufacturers of Schaumburg, Ill., have recently launched
entrée lines that are cooked en papillote to meet consumer
demand for on-the-go eating.
The papillote package is a brown-paper cooking bag, similar
to a microwave popcorn bag. The food cooks inside the bag,
allowing natural juices to intermingle and retains moisture
while providing robust flavors. The food lets off steam,
saturating the inside of the bag with vapor. Meals are ready to
eat within minutes.
"When we put a piece of fish in the bag, our system is
designed around the fish; it retains moisture very well,"
explains chef Eric Carre, whose company, AFM, owns the patent
on the papillote bags used for AFM and Mar-Lees. "Customers
simply snip one side of the bag and [the fish] slides right out
on to the serving dish," says Carre.
The Chef Papillote meal/package concept from AFM fulfills
the consumer demand for simple packaging and taste.
"Most consumers today want better food that's nutritionally
balanced and they want the delivery system simplified," says
Carre. "They are tired of plastic bags and trays."
The Chef Papillote line includes nine varieties, such as
Cajun Four Pepper Shrimp with Steamed Rice and Vegetables and
Festive Seafood Paella. AFM plans to launch a half dozen more
seafood meals in the future because, according to Carre, "if
anything, these products are showing best in the seafood and
Mar-Lees' papillote collection under its Nantucket Supreme
brand includes Miso Crusted Salmon with Wheat Noodles and
Vegetables, Shrimp and Rice with a Cajun Four-Pepper Sauce and
Tilapia and Yukon Gold Potatoes with Roasted Tomatoes and a
Tarragon Mustard Sauce.
"Right now in America about $260 billion is spent in going
to restaurants and bringing it home to eat," says Steve
McDonnell, Mar-Lees' VP of sales, adding that consumers are
driven to do so because local grocery stores' product quality
doesn't meet expectations. "In [frozen food cases] right now,
it's fried chicken. Retailers are finally waking up to the fact
that their customers are spending three times on take-out from
restaurants than in stores."
Carre says demand for the Chef Papillote line has been so
high since its release a little over a year ago, the company
has produced more than 3 million meals - without even marketing
"The beauty of the meal is that it slides out of the bag
completely presented as if in a restaurant," explains Carre.
"Practically 100 percent of people come back and say it tastes
exactly like [it was made at] a restaurant, or if they made it
at home," he says. "Customers love the process because it's
very interactive. It's simplified and convenient and people are
very into that."
RTE meals with seafood are an ideal combination to provide
consumers with the quality, flavor, nutrition and convenience
they desire. As a category that will continue to expand, there
couldn't be a better time for seafood companies to jump on the
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at