Meals & Meal Components
2000 1999
Sauces 664 610
Pizzas & entrees 412 432
Soups 216 254
Seasonings 289 238
Pasta 191 231
Vegetables 135 158
Meal kits 87 76
Other side dishes 35 71
Potato products 39 60
Rice 52 59
Prepared meals 51 35
Total 2,171 2,224

Source: New Product News/GNPD & PF

In the past, entrees were usually limited to meat, vegetable and potato. Now, you are much more likely to find a quick handheld item for portability. In many cases, the portion size has gotten smaller, allowing consumers to eat multiple mini-meals during the day. Many of those products are sandwiches or Hot Pockets-type items. Some can be eaten as is; others require heating up for a tasty hot meal.

In addition, more products are being eaten as a center-of-the-plate item that once were only accompaniments to meals, such as vegetable combos, traditional starch-based side dishes and soups.

What's also changed in the Meals and Meal Components category is the number of products geared just to breakfast. Again, it used to be that those products would be limited mainly to waffles and pancakes, with the occasional Egg McMuffin imitator. But no more.

Stouffer’s extended its Skillets Sensations line with an ovenable version, aptly named Oven Sensations.
Breakaway Foods, the company that introduced the most original handheld item in '99 (IncrEdibles), tried to top itself in 2000 with IncrEdibles Breakfasts--rolled up pancakes with butter and syrup for on-the-go eating. Other portable offerings for breakfast included Rosarita Breakfast Burritos from Fernando Foods and Jimmy Dean Sausage & Waffle sandwiches.

For those times when consumers are going to cook a meal, they are probably going to choose one of the many meal kits or bowl meals that are offered. That trend, too, continued in 2000. While most of the new products were simply me-too items, one that is a logical brand extension came from Stouffer Foods. It extended its Skillet Sensations line with an Oven Sensations line.

Following the success of its Rice Bowls, Uncle Ben’s has launched a line of Noodle Bowls.

On the Side...or Not

Standouts in the Side Dish category were mainly products that had been enhanced in some way or altered from how they might normally be found in a store. Pastas were plentiful, and several stood out from the crowd. On the East Coast, Bestfoods' Mueller's Essentials Fortified Pasta offered pasta with added calcium, folic acid and fiber. Campbell's Soup also fortified things with its SpaghettiOs Plus Calcium line.

Several companies introduced organic pastas, including Mrs. Leeper's with its Organic Spaghetti Eddie line, and New Organics, as part of its Richard Scarry product line for children. Whey Cool Pasta was an organic entry that was fortified with whey or soy protein for body-builder types looking for new protein sources.

Soy showed up in Three Palm Enterprises' Palmettina's Soy Italianne Pasta, which promised to provide the FDA-mandated 6.5 g of soy protein per serving. Poatghettio Potato Pasta from Natural American Ginseng crossed the line between side dishes. While not the first potato pasta, it is one of the most oddly named.

In the spuds subcategory, there were a number of convenient new options but no groundbreaking introductions. The closest revolutionary idea would have to be Lamb-Weston's Inland Valley Portionable Potatoes. These mashed potatoes pellets come in 2-lb. bags and only need water to become a plate of fluffy potatoes. The MinuteBaker Potato was another interesting idea that caught our eye. This baked potato retails in a plastic box with sour cream, butter, salt and pepper, ready to be warmed in a microwave. It can be eaten as a complete meal or as an accompaniment.

Couscous, Thai noodles and basmati rice all made appearances last year as foreign foods pushed further into the mainstream. We predict a good deal more of these types of products down the road. Maybe there will even be some from a major label or two.

Beans showed some activity in 2000. Many of the introductions were of the baked bean variety, with maple and vegetarian varieties from B & G, and maple, bacon, and black bean varieties from Bush's. But the bean making the most news is, of course,
the soybean. In this category, it's called edamame, however. Seapoint Farms, Frieda's and SunRich were just three of the companies offering soybeans in the shell, dubbed edamame in Japan. They are designed to be eaten as a side dish or even as a snack, straight out of the pod. Frieda's also introduced a shelled variety for snacking or as a side dish.

The big thing we didn't see in this Side Dish category that we have in previous years is the prepackaged salad or ready-to-eat salad greens. That's not because there is less of a demand for them, we believe, but rather because the market is quite saturated.


Bam! It was a year of spice, squeezability and celebrities. Emeril Lagasse rolled out a line of specialty sauces from B & G Foods, all designed to help consumers "kick it up a notch." Other celebrity products included more sauces from Charlie Trotter; sauces and condiments from restaurants LuLu and chinablue; Bobby Flay items; and a line of sauces from baseball great Mickey Mantle, who died in 1995. It was a year with more celebrities than in the past.

More products got squeezed than ever before. H.J. Heinz' E-Z Squeeze ketchup bottle, however, was eclipsed by the greenness of the ketchup inside. Other companies, too, put the squeeze on their condiments, such as Kraft's Claussen pickle relish in a squeeze bottle, and the continued plethora of salad dressings in similar containers.

In general (like in past years), flavors were spicier and more flavorful. Olive oils were flavored with orange, lemon and more; bread dippers were loaded with savory spices; and foods with an ethnic twist grew in strength.

Although we saw very few "healthy" products in this category, one from Procter & Gamble stands out. Its Crisco CookSmart cooking oil is made with plant sterol esters, designed to reduce cholesterol.

For the coming months, look for more sauces with recipes for making unique, ethnic dishes; even more celebrity foods (maybe it's time for an Iron Chef line); and continued portability in sauces and other condiments.

Soup's On

Several soups that rode the exotic foods wave were a line of Miso soups from Edward and Sons Trading. Miso, a traditional Japanese soup, may open the arena for even more exotic ready-to serve and mix soups like Indian Lentil or African Peanut. Some small companies, such as Ginny's Vegan, did give us Ratatouille and Mexican Fiesta Stew, but we have yet to see really spicy offerings from a major company.

Another fun offering that may be a harbinger of things to come was International Culinary Group's Chef M. J. Brando's Edible Bread Crocks, which come with French Onion Soup, Herbed Chicken with Vegetables or Beef Chili.

For dessert, toppings tended toward the fruity as opposed to the chocolatey. Nuts also figured prominently.

In the coming months, watch for a continuation of intense flavors, but perhaps with a fruit twist instead of a chocolate/caramel/nut twist. Also, perhaps 2001 will be the year we'll see more dairy-based refrigerated dessert items a la what is so popular in Europe. PF