Prepared Foods talks with Josh Gress, a product developer at Request Foods, a leading frozen foods co-packer based in Holland, Mich. Request can develop, manufacture and package more than 500 different types of prepared entrees, appetizers, sauces and skillet meals for all channels. The private company employs as many as 10 culinary trained chefs for customer service and custom product development.
Prepared Foods: How do today’s retail frozen foods offer enhanced “culinary” appeal?
Josh Gress: We see more manufacturers calling out specific ingredients for meals. More of today’s packages call out regional ingredients, such as New Mexico’s Hatch chile pepper; or ethnic pastes, such as gochujang. Both of these ingredients are rising in popularity. Speaking of gochujang, there’s been a large push for global flavors. We’ve seen this with some of our customers. And when you look at the freezercase, you see more flavor profiles from all over the world—including different new ingredients from Asia, Africa, and South America.
We still see growing popularity for skillet meals, which keep consumers more involved in the cooking process. We even make some that come with separate pouches of rice. Consumers cook the protein, sauce and vegetables in a skillet on the stove—and then they simply microwave the rice pouch. When all components are done, consumers simply portion the cooked rice onto a plate and then add the sauce.
Lastly, we see a shift toward trending new ethnic entrées and sauces. For example, we’ve made a few Indian meals and our sauce-making process includes toasting and sautéing Indian spices in a steam jacketed kettle prior to them coming together in a sauce.
PF: Speaking of Request, how else do you boost culinary appeal?
Gress: There’s been increasing popularity for foodservice entrees and other items featuring alcohol and we had a customer who wanted a certain sauce with a beer flavor. In this instance—rather than source a beer flavor—we brought in kegs of beer and added a certain formulated amount directly to the sauce.
Another trend involves the growth of cauliflower-based entrees and sides. We hadn’t seen cauliflower in the breakfast space and we worked on an “egg bake” using cauliflower instead of potatoes. I was surprised with how many members of our sales team thought they were eating potatoes instead of cauliflower!
PF: What are a few culinary trends you see gaining more importance in 2019?
Gress: First, I’d say is the growth of plant-based entrees and alternative proteins. Our growing world population—coupled with the amount of resources that it takes to raise animals—is eventually going to force more people to adopt a vegetarian or flexitarian diet.
Secondly, we see Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand all gaining traction as tourist destinations and I suspect some future culinary trends will come from these regions.
It’s not necessary a culinary trend but I think we’ll continue to see more products with even cleaner ingredient statements. This trend already dates back a few years. Now we have some customers who don’t even want to see “modified food starch” on an ingredient statement.