Despite recent innovative product launches, from snack kits aimed at children to ethnic food kits, the meal kit sector is expected to show a slight fall in launch activity by the end of the year. Alissa Ostrowski looks at the latest products and examines the future of the meal kit sector.

In general, meal kits are convenient meal solutions that provide the creative leeway needed to allow consumers to add their own personal touch to each dish. The traditional meal kit products have evolved from shelf stable seasoned rice and noodle kits to include exotic ethnic ingredients, high-end premium seasonings, and convenient time saving formulations to streamline the cooking process. New innovative products also entertain younger consumers by incorporating participation and fun into mealtimes.

Prepared Meals accounted for 65% of all launch activity within the Meals & Meal Centres category with 6,811 product introductions over the period covered. The Meal Kit subcategory only contributed 741 product introductions, and looking at data from the first half of 2003, it appears that the category will experience a slight (3%) decrease in activity by the end of the year.

Activity within the Meal Kit subcategory is split evenly between new product launches and variety/range extensions. New product launches originated from a number of key players, such as Kraft Foods, which introduced a Pasta Salad Kit under its Digiorno product line. Many producers also added to existing brands including Asda in the UK, which extended its Good For You! brand with the introduction of products such as the Tex Mex Meal For One, which includes chilli con carne in boiled rice, garlic and herb potato wedges and a creamy garlic dip.

Ethnic selections

Consumers are becoming familiar with foods from other cultures, which in turn generates interest in do-it-yourself packaged goods that provide step-by-step instructions on proper methods of preparation. Recent GNPD launch data also provides evidence that a substantial market for ethnic foods exists, as more than 100 “ethnic” meal kits are expected to enter the market by the end of 2003. Products vary from region to region, however. Mexican and Asian varieties are common across the board in North America and Europe, including fajita, taco, noodle, and rice kits, which often provide added sauces and seasonings to provide an authentic flavour. The breadth of the ethnic food segment continues to expand with Thai, Japanese, Indian, and Mediterranean selections that offer consumers the opportunity to sample dishes from other cultures without the difficulty of creating the meal from scratch. Recent notable launches include:

  • In New Zealand, Nippon Meat Packers introduced the Obento Sushi Kit to make six nori rolls. The product includes all the necessities: sushi rice, yaki nori (seaweed sheets), wasabi, Mitsukan powdered sushi mix, soy sauce, a bamboo roller and a full colour instruction manual.
  • Santa Maria introduced the Spicy World Thai Dinner Kit in Denmark and Sweden, a dinner kit that requires the addition of chicken and that contains egg noodles, paneng red curry spice mix and coconut milk.
  • In Europe, Unilever Bestfoods launched a new range of meal kits under its Knorr brand with the introduction of a Knorr Indian Tikka Masala Recipe Kit; Kashmiri Chicken Biriyani Recipe Kit; Thai Green Curry Recipe Kit; and a Shanghai Black Bean Chicken Recipe Kit. The meal kits call for the addition of chicken while the entire meal can be prepared in just 15 minutes.
  • In the UK, Kitchen Guru introduced a range of Indian meal kits to create a “truly authentic Indian experience.” The range of products comprises: Cauliflower & Potatoes; Goan Style Pork; Spicy Dal with Coriander; Saffron Pilau Rice; Chicken Tikka Masala; Chicken Madras; Tangy Chickpea; Prawns in Hot & Sweet Sauce; Oven Chicken Masala; and Chicken Korma. Each package contains conveniently measured portions of different spices that should be added at separate stages of the cooking process.
  • Discovery Foods introduced the Thai Style Fajita Dinner Kit in the UK, a medium spice meal kit, comprising six flour tortillas, Thai stir-fry seasoning and a satay peanut dressing. The consumer is also encouraged to add chicken or stir-fry vegetables to the final product if desired.

Products aimed at children

Parents feel good about cooking for children, as many find the selection of prepared foods for young consumers to be riddled with sodium, fat and calories. However, it is hard always to find time to prepare a meal, leaving room for meal kits that provide a healthy meal when time is cut short. In the US, Funny Bagel Food introduced a number of healthy meal kit options for children including a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich variety complete with a Funny bagel, peanut butter, grape jelly, squeezable strawberry yoghurt, and a Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink. The company claims that the product is low in cholesterol, a good source of protein from peanut butter, and a good source of vitamin C from chocolate drink. Other notable launches include:

Expert Analysis

Thai & Other Emerging Ethnic Foods – UK
This report provides detailed data on market sizes and trends, market drivers, supply structures, market shares, distribution, product briefs, advertising and promotion, consumer attitudes and purchasing trends, future trends and 5 year sales forecasts. Find out more here.


· Golden Vale introduced the Cheestrings Attack-a Snak in the UK, a snack kit, available in three varieties: chicken with a tortilla wrap; ham with a tortilla wrap; and ham and crackers. Each kit also contains a single Cheestring, Heinz Ketchup and a napkin.

· In the US, Yves Veggie Cuisine introduced the I Love Veggie Turkey Meal Kit to its “The Good Lunch” label. The nutritious meal includes six Hain Pure Foods all-natural rich crackers, Yves Veggie Cuisine The Good Slice – cheddar style, six meatless veggie turkey slices, and two Health Valley all-natural chocolate sandwich cremes. It claims to be low in cholesterol and an excellent source of protein without artificial flavours, colours or preservatives.

Although parents often appreciate healthy selections, children prefer meal kits that offer familiar great taste, fun, and enjoyment. To cater to the young consumer, producers have developed a number of solutions that incorporate creativity and participation into mealtime, including a line of lunch products from Kraft Foods with a magic theme. The launch included a Nacho variety that includes a “magic food colour-changing powder” to turn the cheese into different colours and a “Make Your Own Magic Kit” with candy stampers to mark the meats and cheeses included in the package.

The future of the meal kit sector

Ethnic meal kits are expected to continue to appear across many regions, offering a change from typical dinner selections without the hassle of cooking with unfamiliar ingredients. In addition, future products will explore unprecedented territory with spices and seasonings with Indian (for the US market), Mediterranean, and Moroccan influences.

Growing health concerns among consumers may lead to low calorie options including vegetarian and salad meal kits. For example, Lollipop Tree introduced a line of Salad Kits in the US with selections such as Ginger Poppy Seed Dressing with Dried Sweet Cherries and Orange Ginger Walnuts, Honey Roasted Garlic Dressing with Dried Cranberries and Spiced Pecans, and Maple Balsamic Dressing with Dried Pears and Toasted Hazelnuts. The premium Lollipop line retails in gourmet food stores, increasing the likelihood that larger producers will introduce products in mainstream outlets in the near future.

Products for children will call for increased involvement including shelf stable microwaveable meal kits that allow the child safely to cook their own creations.

Alissa Ostrowski works for Mintel. To view Mintel research reports, click here.

To find out more about Mintel’s Global New Product Database, click here.