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Large market potential for frozen meals in elderly nutrition program, says study.

Large Market Potential for Frozen Meals In Elderly Nutrition Program, Says Study

About a third of the agencies delivering meals to the homebound elderly in the U.S.A. use frozen meals, and increased use of frozen meals could reduce costs and increase frequency of service, according to two nutrition experts.

Dr. Alan L. Balsam, nutrition director of Somerville (Mass.) Cambridge Elder Services, and Joseph M. Carlin, a Boston area nutrition consultant, make their case in a paper entitled "Frozen Meals for the Homebound Elderly."

It is based primarily on a study carried out by Dr. Balsam and Beatrice Lorge Rogers at Tufts University, Service Innovations in the Elderly Nutrition Program: Strategies for Unmet Needs, which analyzed data from a random sample of 430 meals-on-wheels programs.

There are about 1,350 Elderly Nutrition Projects (ENPs) that are involved in both congregate and home-delivered meals with the aid of the federal government ($1 billion a year); they served an estimated 230 million meals last year. Federal aid was established in 1972, but frozen meals weren't allowed until 1978.

Home-delivered meals originated in Philadelphia in 1954, and the number of locally-supported programs had grown to about 350 by the time the federal ENP was established. The original law mandated "hot" meals, in order to avoid a cheapo "soup and sandwich program," but "hot, cold, frozen, dried, canned or supplemental foods" were authorized in 1978.

Responses to last year's study, sponsored by the Tufts University School of Nutrition, where Dr. Balsam is an adjunct assistant professor, revealed that 34% (137) of 404 nutrition programs do serve frozen meals, whereas 66% (267) do not. Use of frozen meals was highest in the Northeast (54%, 56 out of 103) and lowest in the South (zilch, out of 22).

Dr. Balsam and Carlin seemed surprised at the lack of contrast between urban and rural use of frozen meals, since it "was reasonable to expect that frozen meals would be more widely used in rural areas to reduce high transportation costs." The Tufts study showed a 33% rate for rural programs, 32% for urban and 34% for suburban; the slight differences are statistically insignificant.

One of the problems faced by meals-on-wheels programs is how to get meals delivered on weekends. About half apparently don't make any provision for this at all, but 100 of those responding to the question (23%) solve the problem by delivering frozen meals during the week. The next most popular option (10%) is delivering two cold meals on Friday; four percent use both cold and frozen meals.

The National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs (NANASP), which has about 650 members and knows of about 650 others, cooperated with Tufts by supplying a list -- every third name was drawn -- and sending out a cover letter urging agencies thus chosen to take part in the study. Some 568 study questionaires were distributed; 450 responses came back, but 20 were excluded because the agencies involved didn't sponsor both congregate and home-delivered meals.

Of 423 agencies responding to a question on how their meals are sourced, 24% said they have them prepared by caterers, 16% use central kitchens, 14% prepare them on site, 15% use a combination of on-site and caterer, 14% a combination of on-site and central kitchen, three percent a combination of caterer and central kitchen, and 11% all three methods. Frozen meals are presumably sourced primarily through caterers, although the question isn't directly addressed. It isn't entirely clear, either, what is meant by 22% (96) of the agencies offering a "supper option" to home-delivery clients.

Dr. Balsam and Carlin conclude that frozen meals provide an opportunity for ENP agencies to:

. Control cost without reducing quality.

. Closely control nutrient content of meals.

Design meals to meet particular dietary needs of the frail elderly.

. Provide a range of meals to meet various ethnic, cultural and religious needs in the same area.

. Protect home-delivered meals from potential microbial contamination.

"Because of potential savings in transportation and staff costs, it will be more viable for meal programs to serve more than one meal per day per person, possibly even a three meal per day plan for some clients who are at nutritional risk," they observe. "Frozen meals more easily permit a program to serve clients on weekends. There exists a potentially large market for frozen meals in the program. The American FF industry should work with the national network of Elderly Nutrition Programs to insure that the goals of both can be achieved."
COPYRIGHT 1989 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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