Meal Kits the Next Generation?

The original meal kit could well have been General Mills' Hamburger Helper. Just add ground beef and some other ingredients to make a hearty, filling meal quickly and economically.

Now Kraft Foods has its own permutation of the meal kit. This one takes a page from Europe (and from its own past failures). It's refrigerated. Just add meat to the contents of the box, which include pasta or rice, sauce, and cheese (depending on the variety). The Freshmade Creations line currently is testing in several cities, including Grand Junction, Colo., Eau Claire, Wis., and Pittsfield, Mass. To reinforce the "fresh" idea, the boxes are sold in the meat case and have their own carrying handle. The varieties sound just like every other meal kit out there: Classic Italian Lasagna, Chicken Parmesan with Linguine, Cheesy Chicken and Rice and Broccoli, and Fiesta Taco Dinner Bake, to name just a few of the eight varieties in the line.

The plan, it appears, is to market them next to the fresh meat they require (chicken or ground beef).Now, take a moment to jump into the "way-back" machine. Kraft tested a product line called Fresh Creations back in 1990 as part of the refrigerated ready-to-eat meal craze from the late 1980s and early 1990s. The entrees tested in Kansas City in some decidedly upscale varieties: Chicken Hawaiian, Lasagna Florentine, and Beef Burgundy. They were sold in their own display case, thus helping to eliminate some of the problems encountered by Nestle and others with maintaining the freshness and look of their lines. (Remember Nestle's FreshNes line?)

It appears with this new line that Kraft is learning a lesson from another failed product General Mills' Betty Crocker Dinner Partners from 1992. The line included a compartment of pasta and sauce and another of meat. Stores added the meat. Perhaps it learned from a product very similar to this new Freshmade Creations line<\m>Land O' Lakes' Perfect Timings Meals. They included everything but the meat, but instead of being marketed in the meat section, they were sold in the produce section, though not for long.

Perhaps now the consuming public is ready for this type of concept. Check back in about six months.

Taco Dinner Bake: salsa: tomato puree (water, tomato paste), tomatoes, tomato juice, green chili peppers, carrots, red bell peppers, corn, jalapeno peppers, onions*, contains less than 2% of vinegar, salt, cilantro, sugar, garlic*, natural flavor; Taco shells: yellow corn flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, water; Shredded cheddar and monterey jack cheese: pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes, annatto (color), cellulose powder added to prevent caking, natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor); Cheese sauce: milk and part-skin milk, water, whey, milkfat, sodium phosphate, contains less than 2% of corn syrup*, salt, worcestershire sauce (vinegar, water, molasses, corn syrup, salt, caramel color, garlic*, sugar, spice, anchovies, tamarind, natural flavor), mustard flour, lactic acid, sodium alginate, oleoresin paprika, annatto (color), enzymes, cheese culture, vitamin A palmitate, sorbic acid as a preservative; Sour cream topping: sour cream (pasteurized cultured grade A milk and cream, enzymes), water, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of dextrose, sodium phosphate, mono- and diglycerides, xanthan gum, condensed skim milk, natural and artificial flavor *dried

Serving size 1/6 package (180g), servings per container 6, calories 390, calories from fat 210, total fat 24g, saturated fat 14g, cholesterol 60mg, sodium 1150mg, total carbohydrate 32g, dietary fiber 3g, sugars 6g, protein 13g, vitamin A 20%, vitamin C 10%, calcium 30%, iron 2%

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Innovative Package

Two Trends in One Box

Nature's Path Foods, Blaine, Ore., now offers what it calls Organic Optimum Power Breakfast Cereal, a blend of organic flax bran flakes, soy threads, Kamut puffs, and organic, freeze-dried blueberries. Free of GMO ingredients, it contains 40% of the recommended daily intake of calcium, 100% of vitamin B12 and folic acid. Although not mentioned on the box, the blueberries also aid eye health. Organic Optimum Power Breakfast Cereal is packed in a 14-oz. paperboard box and retails in health food stores for $3.59. Certainly an optimal cereal, it also contains 10g of fiber, 40% of the RDA for calcium, 8g protein, and plenty of soy isoflavones.

Increasingly, breakfast cereals are the items that provide overall perfect nutrition for consumers. The products have all the protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals needed for providing a healthy start to the day (with or without milk and calcium-fortified orange juice).

Whole wheat bran*, whole wheat meal*, evaporated cane juice*, soy flour*, puffed Kamut, flax seeds*, barley malt extract*, soy fiber*, oat bran*, freeze-dried blueberries*, sea salt, cinnamon*, calcium carbonate, folic acid, cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12), tocopherols (natural vitamin E) added to enhance freshness; *organically grown and processed

Serving size 1 cup (55g), servings per container about 7, calories 190, calories from fat 20, total fat 2.5g, saturated fat 20, polyunsaturated fat 1g, monounsaturated fat 0.3g, cholesterol 0mg, sodium 230mg, potassium 200mg, total carbohydrate 41g, dietary fiber 10g, sugars 16g, protein 8g, vitamin A 0%, vitamin C 2%, calcium 40%, iron 15%, folic acid 100%, vitamin B12 100%

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All Natural Organic

A Cup of Tea, Mate

Hain-Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, Colo., is following many other health food beverage companies and branching out from tea made from just plain old tea leaves. It now has Mate Tea, which contains leaves from the South American mate plant, as well as green tea, herbs, and spices.

The Mate Teas are available in three new varieties: Tropical Zinger, a blend of tropical fruits, tangy red hibiscus, tart blackberry leaves, and mellow and sweet vanilla beans; Verde Mist, a mixture of mate, green tea, and red bush tea; and Island Spice, a combination of sweet oranges, cinnamon, ginger root, cloves, cardamom, and allspice. Mate Teas are packed in 1.7-oz. 20-ct. paperboard boxes and are available in supermarkets.

These types of teas were once sold only in health food stores. Now, with companies like Hain-Celestial, they also are appearing in mainstream supermarkets.

Natural peach flavor, other natural flavors, Chinese blackberry leaves, dried peaches

Serving size 1 tea bag, mate leaf 1.5g, green tea 240mg, rooibos 240mg

Convenience Sans Yolk

Although the Egg Beaters brand has had its share of owners and market challenges, it continues to innovate. The latest is Egg Beaters Egg Whites. Sold in four-packs of individual cups, the refrigerated egg whites are designed specifically for baking and whipping applications, the company says. Presumably, the company recommends its regular Egg Beaters for making omelettes and scrambled eggs.

The foodservice industry has long had already-packaged egg whites; this is the first retail application. It certainly makes sense. Although consumers are not as obsessed over lowfat and low cholesterol foods as they once were, it seems they still do at least some substitution of egg whites for whole eggs. This particular product makes that easier.

Egg whites; contains less than 0.5% xanthan gum and triethyl citrate (to enhance whipping)

Serving size 1/4 cup (61g), servings per container about 2, 2 containers per package, calories 30, calories from fat 0, total fat 0g, saturated fat 0g, cholesterol 0mg, sodium 100mg, total carbohydrate 1g, dietary fiber 0g, sugars 0g, protein 6g, vitamin A 0%, vitamin C 0%, calcium 0%, iron 0%

A Souped-Up Offering

Here in the States, companies just don't seem to be able to make a go of premium-packaged soups. New Covent Garden has its line of refrigerated soups, but it is a relatively small brand with a decided upscale appeal. Campbell Soup has tried its old Home Cookin' line in glass jars (that didn't work well), and then tomato soup in a plastic jug (if you don't have a big family, the leftover soup in the jug starts to look less than appealing).

Perhaps one way to help overcome the price differential between premium packaged soups and the regular canned varieties is to offer a different type of benefit: organic. Walnut Acres Organic Farms, Penns Creek, Penn., has a new line of certified organic soups that all come in 15-oz. glass jars for a hefty $2.99. However, they are organic and do come in some unusual varieties: Autumn Harvest, Classic Minestrone, Country Corn Chowder, Four Bean Chili, Ginger Carrot, Homestyle Broccoli, Savory Tomato, and Zesty Tomato.

Ginger Carrot: water, organic carrot puree, organic onions, organic wild rice, organic brown rice, corn starch, organic potato starch, organic cane sugar, organic ginger puree, organic cream, sea salt, organic dehydrated onion, organic spice

Serving size 1 cup (250g), servings per container about 2, calories 100, fat calories 5, total fat 1g, saturated fat 0g, cholesterol 0mg, sodium 550mg, total carb 22g, fiber 3g, sugars 8g, protein 2g vitamin A 120%, vitamin C 8%, calcium 4%, iron 4%

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OrganicLow Sodium