Dispelling the chilled food myth

There is no doubt that pre-prepared meals are convenient. The ‘stab, stab, ping, ping’ approach to cooking is common in households and offices across theUK. In this age of austerity eating out is a luxury we can ill afford which is why the gourmet style ready meal, with the promise of using only the freshest ingredients, is a much more cost effective option…

When microwave meals first appeared in supermarkets (usually in the frozen section) there wasn’t a lot to choose from and the end result rarely looked anything like the picture on the packaging. The meal wasn’t particularly tasty, but it filled us up and allowed a little more time at lunch or in the evenings to do other things. The ‘no washing-up factor’ made up for what the food lacked in goodness and what’s more, there were no heavy bags to carry home bursting with ingredients that would take time to prepare or sit unused in the fridge before being condemned to the bin.

Chilled foods have come a long way since. Freshly prepared with vegetables and other quality ingredients, the consumer can now enjoy a restaurant style meal at the fraction of the price in minutes. High end varieties sit alongside more affordable options – there is something for every purse and palate. Today, Chilled Food Association (CFA) members provide a choice of over 12,000 high quality chilled foods with recipes prepared by chefs and gathered from all over the world. These include reduced fat options for the more health conscious consumer to indulgent treats for those special occasions.

There are, however, a few (fading) myths surrounding chilled foods which the Association for one is keen to dispel. It comments: “Chilled prepared foods are not kept fresh using preservatives – they rely instead on being kept chilled. Most chilled prepared foods are made on the day of despatch to the retailer.” This is an important message to get across to the consumer; the fear that their dinner has been sat on the shelf gathering dust for weeks couldn’t be further from the truth. The CFA explains: “Chilled foods are made to order using Just-In-Time systems. Manufacturers, therefore, operate short production runs with products often made on the day of delivery. Unlike many other countries,UKchilled foods have very short shelf lives, typically from 1-10 days.”

So what do we define as being ‘chilled food’? According to the CFA, the term covers retail prepared chilled foods that can be ready to eat, ready to heat or which require cooking. “The chilled food industry makes 12,000 different foods, mostly every day. From fresh soups and pasta to ready made sandwiches and prepared salads chilled foods can be found on our tables and in most people’s lunch boxes and fridges,” it says.

Chilled foods have actually been available since the 60s, but it wasn’t until the late 90s that we began to see real product development. The CFA explains: “Initially market growth was due to the dramatic increase in the number of households with domestic refrigerators and the emergence of supermarkets, whose shorter lines of supply and faster turnovers allowed for the handling of shorter shelf life prepared foods. Over the past 20 years, however, the market has been driven by the huge social, economic and demographic changes that have influenced our eating habits. Time pressures and higher disposable incomes combined with a rise in the number of working women and people living alone has meant an increased demand for delicious nutritious foods that are great value and quick and easy to prepare.”

TheUK’s retail chilled prepared food market is worth more than £9bn per annum and represents some 13% of the retail food market. The market is still growing at 5% per annum, says the CFA.

One of the largest sectors is the chilled recipe dish sector which has grown from an estimated £173 million in 1988 to about £1,000 million in 2008. The totalUKchilled prepared food market was an estimated £8,708 million in 2009 and continues to evolve, reflecting consumers changing needs and lifestyles. (Source Kantar WorldPanel 2010).

“In line with rising consumer demand, a key feature in the development of chilled foods in theUKhas been the industry’s approach to food safety and quality, the success of which is recognised around the world. These high standards together with the huge choice of products available help to explain whyUKconsumers choose to buy chilled foods again and again,” insists the CFA.

The chilled food sector is huge within Vending – they share the same ethos and the technology is there to support it. The Fridge Raider, from Eagle Vending, supplies leading chilled brands nationally – up to 6 days per week to provide a 24/7 food service solution. The machines vend everything from snacks, to drinks and ready meals in a menu that allows for ‘Eat on the Go’ ready meal options.

From just £3.42 per day operators can provide an unrivalled service from the UK’s top brands (as seen advertised on TV) Wall’s Pastry, Rustlers Burgers, Jacket Potatoes, Chicken Fridge Raiders, Cheesestrings, Peperami, Tropicana, McVities’s – plus many more.

Hospitals, leisure centres and universities are just a few of the busy locations already operating the Fridge Raider to their customers and staff.

Eagle Vending are theUKvending partner of Kerry Foods – theUK’s leading chilled van delivery service provider with over 400 vans nationwide.

Whether a vending machine is used in place of a canteen or to support it out of hours, the cost savings are as satisfying as the food. With consumer finances under continued strain, being able to enjoy life’s little luxuries now and again is vital, which is why dining in is indeed the new eating out!