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The convenience factor.

The quick preparation of food is an increasingly important facet of the changing American lifestyle. Dual income families, single parents, and children find the convenience factor crucial in food preparation, often superseding even price as the most important factor in purchasing choice. Since the advent of the microwave oven, convenience foods have become increasingly defined as those that lend themselves to microwave preparation. New food technologies and the popularity of the microwave oven are substantially improving the quality of convenience foods, and making preparation quicker and easier in the kitchen of the average consumer.

According to a soon-to-be released BUSINESS COMMUNICATIONS COMPANY, INC. study, "New Convenience Foods" total sales of new convenience foods are projected to grow twice as fast as prepared foods in general. In 1991, sales of new convenience foods totaled almost $6.4 billion. By 1996, this figure is expected to reach approximately $9.8 billion, reflecting average annual growth of 9 per cent. Clearly, important market opportunities exist in a number of areas.

Frozen microwavable food represents the single largest category of the new convenience foods market, accounting for nearly 25 per cent of the overall total in 1991. From almost $1.7 billion in 1991, sales of frozen microwavable foods are expected to grow at 5 per cent annually, the slowest rate of all new convenience foods. Lackluster growth is largely a result of the high price and disappointing quality of many of the products. Nor surprisingly, the most successful new microwave food products are those that deliver what consumers perceive to be high quality, at a reasonable price. By 1995, sales of frozen microwavable convenience foods will rise to over $2.1 billion.

The most significant competition for new frozen convenience foods is microwavable shelf-stable foods. Retailers prefer new shelf-stable foods because the costs for storage and distribution are low. Consumers appreciate the long shelf-life, ranging from 12 to 18 months. However, packaging these products in tubs or trays for the microwave results in premium prices, thus limiting consumer acceptance. Still, these products represent a major market opportunity because they do not require refrigeration. Sales of shelf-stable microwavable foods will rise 6.4 per cent annually to reach almost $1.8 billion by 1996.

Chilled convenience foods will be another growth area. "Chilled convenience foods have one clear advantage - they are perceived to be fresh," states BCC author Carol Curtis. Chilled pastas and sauces presently account for 40 per cent of this category. Other new chilled foods have been struggling, however, with major food companies like Campbell, Kraft and Nestle withdrawing from the markets after disappointing tests. Success remains elusive, in part because of the difficulty associated with the distribution of these products over long distances while maintaining their short shelf-life.

New processed meats, poultry and seafood, particularly poultry products and surimi, are experiencing rapid growth. Microwavable pre-cooked chicken sales were up 40 per cent in 1990, and rose by 29 per cent in 1991. Surimi - gelled fish protein that is made to imitate crab and other shell-fish - has been enjoying annual sales growth of 20 per cent. By 1996, new processed meats, poultry and seafood will reach a sales level of approximately $928 million.

Although present sales are negligible, sous vide foods remain a very promising area, with a small number of innovative companies experimenting in this technology. While enjoying popularity in Europe, this technology has not gained acceptance in the U.S. Sales of new sous vide foods will rise an incredible 43 per cent annually from $15 million in 1991 to $90 million by 1996.

"The next generation of convenience foods will be directly influenced by the success of technology in overcoming the drawbacks of microwave ovens, such as browning, crisping, and heating evenly, to name a few," according to the author. "In the future, it is likely that the entire product will be considered a system in which all the components - packaging, food ingredients, package and product configurations - function together to produce optimum results in the microwave.

COPYRIGHT 1992 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:convenience food industry report from Business Communications Company, Inc.
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Lowfat, low cholesterol frozen dinners and entrees.
Next Article:Poultry more popular than ever.

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