What consumers want from convenient foods is changing, and suppliers and manufacturers have some great options to meet those expectations.
By Carolyn Camilleri
The trend towards convenient foods is by no means new, but it is evolving in new and interesting ways — so much so that “convenience” warrants a new definition.
“Convenience used to mean making a meal in 10 to 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes, but now we look at convenience not only in terms of prep time, but also in terms of ease of preparation and portability,” says René Puerta, brand manager of brand building and innovation (meals) for Kraft Heinz Canada. “So not only are consumers expectations for convenience becoming more demanding, but they are also living busier lives and wanting more convenience products.”
COVID-19 has played a role.
“The pandemic has shifted consumer buying trends in many ways, and one of the biggest trends has been the increased demand for convenience,” says Darcy Peters, vice-president of sales at Meatless Farm Canada. “The introduction of e-commerce and curb-side pickup options were designed to protect consumers’ safety, and an added benefit has been the convenience that this provides; consumers no longer need to enter brick-and-mortar locations, and when they do, they are trying to get in and out of the store in the shortest amount of time possible.”
As Peters points out, this is a trend we expect to continue, and retailers that haven’t adopted these practices risk losing out to their competition.
A key part of the evolution of convenience is what people want to buy: they are looking for healthier options and alternatives, says Tony Morello, CEO of Zoglo’s Incredible™ Food Corp.
“Portability is the key and there are examples of great healthy snacks and convenient meals throughout the grocery store today and in virtually every department,” says Morello.
Plant-based foods are of significant interest today, and as Morello points out, are expected to continue to garner high consumer interest due to the health and environmental benefits attached to consuming these products.
“Plant-based alternatives are here to stay, and they are extremely convenient as most require less preparation and cooking time than their traditional alternatives,” says Morello, noting that there is an even larger assortment of plant-based “Heat and Eat” and even “Grab and Go” options available now. “We would expect that as life begins to move back to a sense of normality after COVID, a very large portion of the population will find themselves time-starved and looking for convenient options.”
And research supports this shift in what people want from convenient foods.
What the research says
A Mintel report from May 2021 on meal planning states that health and convenience are the top areas considered when it comes to planning meals. While 71 per cent of Canadians target eating healthy foods most of the time, time-crunched consumers will naturally gravitate towards options that are easy and relatively quick. Those surveyed who indicated having less knowledge of cooking (69 per cent) prefer easy meals that are simple to make and easy to clean up, compared with 58 per cent overall.
“Those with basic cooking skills tend to skew younger (35 per cent are 18-34 versus 29 per cent overall) and thus tend to be less affluent (41 per cent of 18-34s have a household income of less than $50,000 vs. 35 per cent overall), making lower-cost options more appealing.”1
While health has long been important, the pandemic has intensified that focus. Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends for 2021 states, “As the singular focus of avoiding COVID-19 fades, people will make more serious commitments to reduce the health risks associated with unhealthy eating, become more interested in mindful and intuitive eating, and seek proof and incentives through the use of technology.”2
Combine this with another change in consumer behaviour related to the pandemic: we shop differently now. According to Mintel’s Grocery Retailing, which includes a look at the impact of COVID-19 Canada, 79 per cent of consumers say they aim to get in and out of stores as quickly as possible.
“Lost is the inclination to make spontaneous supplemental trips to the grocery store to pick something up last minute in favour of more spaced-out bigger baskets to prevent having to do the task as often (41 per cent shopped more than once a week in 2018 versus just 21 per cent in 2020).”3
In other words, shoppers are not browsing around, looking for ideas, which reduces the chance they will happen upon new products; however, suppliers and manufacturers have some suggestions.
Catching the attention of busy consumers, whether they are rushing through the store, shopping online, or looking at a flyer, means appealing to what matters most to them and often that’s time — or the lack of it.
“Retailers can really help themselves and their customers by promoting and educating consumers with ‘Time to Prepare’ tips such as dinner ready in 15 minutes or ‘Heat and Serve’ or ‘Ready To Eat’ options both in flyers and in store with proper signage,” says Morello, listing Zoglo’s Cutlets, Jumbo Franks, and Pub Style Tenders as quick easy plant-based meal and snacking solutions. “The great thing about convenience and portable foods for retailers is that they are usually more impulse and less price-sensitive in nature.”
Placement in the store is critical in aligning with consumer demand for convenience.
“All [Meatless Farm] products have been created to cook exactly like their meat counterparts, to ensure that consumers can easily swap out meat for a plant-based alternative in all of their favourite recipes – without compromising on taste or texture,” says Peters, adding that Meatless Farm’s products go from pan to plate in less than eight minutes from frozen. “In Canada, our products can be found merchandised in either the fresh meat case or in the meat freezer section, depending on the size and volume of the specific store.”
And technology is helping, too. Peters says Meatless Farm has partnered with Social Nature, a digital demonstration company based in Vancouver, to assist in getting consumers to try their products during the pandemic and as we return to normalcy.
Packaging plays a key role in capturing attention, and Kraft Heinz Canada invested in extensive research in delivering breakthrough packaging for the launch of their CRAVE line.
“We developed packaging that focused on selling CRAVE’s appetite appeal, highlighting the delicious plate of CRAVE at the centre of the packaging,” says Puerta. “With that said, being a frozen brand, CRAVE is mostly limited to shelving in the frozen aisles given that secondary frozen display is scarce. Our sales team has worked diligently over the past two years to help us secure a full door of CRAVE at many Canadian retailers, allowing consumers to see just how many delicious CRAVE varieties there are available for them.”
When products are this tasty, healthy, quick to prepare, and easy to find, they soon become family favourites and standards in grocery baskets.
Incredibly fast and tasty
Several of Zoglo’s plant-based food options are quick easy meal and snacking solutions, such as the Zoglo’s Cutlets, Jumbo Franks, and Pub-Style Tenders. In Europe and the UK, many consumers cook the Cutlets in a pop-up toaster and the Jumbo Franks and Tenders in a toaster oven. “They really are grab-and-go foods the kids and parents on the run can satisfy their hunger with,” says Tony Morello, CEO of Zoglo’s Incredible™ Food Corp.
Pan to plate in less than eight minutes
Meatless Farm’s full range of plant-based alternatives is available at Metro Ontario, Whole Foods in BC, and several independent and specialty retailers in BC, Alberta, and Ontario. “Our ground, burgers, and breakfast sausages and patties are full of nutrition and excellent for swapping out meat in consumers’ favourite meals in a healthy way,” says Darcy Peters, vice-president of sales at Meatless Farm Canada.
Elevated taste experiences
“We launched CRAVE because there was no brand that delivered on the No.1 purchase driver within the frozen category, which is taste,” says René Puerta, brand manager of brand building and innovation (meals) for Kraft Heinz Canada. “CRAVE is ready in less than six minutes and available in 19 varieties. We’re excited to continue bringing in new, indulgent frozen mouth-watering meals that deliver elevated taste experiences for each meal occasion at home.”
On trend and growing
As consumers opt for less meat and more veg without compromising on flavour, Patak’s, the No.1 Indian brand in Canada, answers with delicious veggie curries. Whether as a quick dinner, easy lunch, or delicious side, these vegetarian meals are “heat and eat” ready in just 90 seconds and contain no artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives. The Indian category is growing +10 per cent. Display in the rice aisle to boost sales.
Flavours of the Middle East
The new-to-Canada Al’Fez brings the flavours of the Middle East to kitchen tables from coast to coast. With their sauces, marinades, pastes, and side-dish kits, including Tabouleh, Moroccan-Spiced Couscous, and Lebanese-Style Falafel Mix to name a few, even the busiest of families can enjoy authentic dishes from all over the world without the time-consuming process and effort it would typically take to source and prepare the ingredients.
Three steps to delicious
Blue Dragon, the brand that was originally founded to answer the scarcity of ingredients available in stores, offers three-step meal kits, such as Pad Thai 3 Step Cooking Sauce and Rice Noodle Kit, Penang Curry, and Thai Green Curry 3 Step Cooking Kit, making whipping up an exciting dish that the whole family will love easier than ever.
1. Meal Planning and Preparation – Canada – May 2021: Meal Planning Factors and Considerations. Source: Lightspeed/Mintel. https://store.mintel.com/report/meal-planning-and-preparation-canada-may-2021
2 Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends for 2021 (January 2021). https://www.mintel.com/global-food-and-drink-trends
3. Grocery Retailing: Incl. Impact of COVID-19 Canada, October 2020. https://store.mintel.com/canada-grocery-retailing-market-research-report