A wealth of new products designed as meals for the time-starved consumer hit the market over the past year. In addition, more shelf-stable items launched, targeting consumers in need of a solid lunch but lacking a refrigerator. Not that the fridge—or freezer— was left totally out of the loop, frozen pizzas continued to be refined—with rising crusts and more upscale ingredients.

A Good Egg

Attempting to eliminate consumer confusion regarding their nutritional benefits, some new egg products basked in the opportunity to tout their healthfulness. Eggland's Best, King of Prussia, Pa., certainly did so when adding an organic variety to its egg lineup. Their organic eggs boasted 190 mg of cholesterol and, as compared with regular eggs, 25% less saturated fat, seven times more vitamin E, three times more omega-3 fatty acid and 25% more lutein.

Playing Chicken

Poultry continues to see innovation, as new items seek to fill the need for convenience and fun.

Those fun aspects are geared to children, with nuggets or portions in the shapes of dinosaurs, trains or some such. Perdue Farms, Salisbury, Md., chose a train motif for its Thomas the Tank Engine, Fun Shapes Choo-Choo Chicken. A novel shape for children and adults alike made its way into foodservice this year, as Brakebrush Brothers, Westfield Wisc., debuted Chik'N Pretzels. These pieces of white-meat chicken are shaped like a pretzel and have a crunchy pretzel coating. Simmons Foods, Siloam Springs, Ark., launched a similar retail product in late 2000, though their coating had a slight mustard flavor.

Mustard was one of a range of flavors found in new poultry offerings this year, highlighted by a number of Buffalo-style varieties.

Mrs. Paul’s expands the bowl concept further into seafood with the launch of a range of bowl meals featuring shrimp.
For turkey fans in need of spice, Jennie-O Foods, Willmar, Minn., introduced Cajun-style fried turkey breast with broth. This 99% fat-free product included natural smoke flavoring. In addition, the company's savory seasoned turkey burger line expanded into retail, boasting 70% less fat than regular ground beef. Turkey also benefited from Jennie-O's expansion of its So Easy Cooked Meats line.

Ready, Set, Eat

“So easy” could describe an abundance of the offerings this year, as the heat-and-eat mentality took firm hold in introductions. Pre-skewered kabobs, as well as pre-marinated and seared chicken breasts, eased the cooking burdens on poultry aficionados, and more are expected.

Farmland National Beef, Kansas City, Mo., took much of the cooking out of ground beef with its launch of Ground and Browned. Fully cooked to reduce prep time, this seasoned beef came in original, Mexican and Italian varieties.

Further easing the burden on time-pressed consumers looking for a main course meat, Thomas E. Wilson, Southfield, Mich., debuted fully cooked versions of familiar favorites ready to heat. The line included seasoned beef meatloaf, Italian-seasoned pork roast, beef in barbecue sauce, lemon pepper pork roast, and seasoned beef sirloin roast.

Bowl Games

Ready-to-heat meals are not confined to dinnertime. Lunches saw their prep time diminish as well, thanks to new products in 2001, and look for breakfast to be the next target. Uncle Ben's, Houston, will focus on that eating occasion with Breakfast Bowls.

Uncle Ben's added a number of offerings to its line of bowl meals/side dishes, including beef fajita Mexican, turkey with wild rice and cranberries; mini bowl versions of those two varieties, plus a cheeseburger offering; and “super bowls” of spicy beef and broccoli and teriyaki stir fry vegetable.

More shelf-stable varieties also made their way to shelves, with General Mills, Minneapolis, launching new Bowl Appetit! flavors. Meanwhile, the shelf-stable It's Pasta Anytime line—formerly of Borden Foods, Columbus, Ohio but purchased by Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., last year—saw its range extended.

Easing the lunchtime hunger in a quick, convenient way, StarKist Seafood, Pittsburgh, Pa., debuted the Lunch To-Go Tuna Salad Kit in albacore and chunk light tuna varieties. The kits included a pouch of tuna, six crackers, relish, mayonnaise, a mixing spoon and a mint. Chicken of the Sea and Bumblebee entered the prepared tuna salad niche, with the latter also debuting a seafood salad with crab variety.

A Piece of the Pie

Frozen pizzas continued to benefit from self-rising crust technology, as a number of private label products began to mirror their delivery-style counterparts. The subcategory continued to rid itself of the “second-class citizen” mentality among consumers, as frozen pizzas began to see more upscale, gourmet ingredients. Most notable was Freschetta, a division of Schwan's Consumer Brands, Bloomington, Minn. Assisted by The Culinary Council, Freschetta reformulated its frozen pizza line to emphasize top-quality ingredients and fresher flavors in varieties such as sausage, supreme, pepperoni, four cheese, four meat, sausage and pepperoni, special deluxe, vegetable primavera with white cream sauce, garlic chicken with white cream sauce, and grilled vegetable medley.

Sidebar: Great Expectations

In eggs, the U.S. will take a page from the U.K. and offer more organic and free-range varieties

Poultry will continue its diverse offerings for kids, with a special focus on unusual shapes and flavors.

More upscale, flavored meat and poultry options will focus first on convenience, but also promote their gourmet flavor combinations.

Bowl meals will not abate—look for chilled versions in the future. More easily-toted lunch offerings will hit the shelves.

For meal kits, there will be a new focus on fresh products (like Kraft's Freshmade Creations).

—Lynn Dornblaser, Global New Products Database, lynnd@mintel.com