While many of the ready meals launched this year have been inspired by Asia and India – as well as a handful from Latin America, like Las Iguanas' retail debut – Waitrose has looked a little closer to home for its latest range.
The retailer has launched a new line of meals inspired by America, from pulled duck tacos – wheat flour tortillas with shredded duck, onion, a mix of long grain and wild grain rice, red kidney beans and Monterey Jack cheese topped with cheese sauce, red pepper and cabbage – to Creole-inspired breaded mushrooms, a flavour that was predicted to hit UK foodservice in 2019.
More traditional American-style fare includes the buttermilk chicken with waffle, pickled vegetables and maple flavour syrup, and the charred beef hash with cornbread and a spicy mix of potatoes and sweet potato topped with red peppers, as well as those more-ish morsels, jalapeno poppers.
There are also a number of vegan and vegetarian options in the new selection, including a spicy vegan jackfruit chilli with sweet potato fries and black-eyed, red kidney and black turtle beans topped with crushed tortilla chips.
Swimming into stores
Seafood is also getting a facelift at Waitrose, with the launch of a range of fish dishes designed to help customers discover more varieties and serve up simple recipes at home.
The aim is to provide meals that are quick and easy to make, said the supermarket, like the Keralan cod, squid and king prawn curry, which comes in a kit with the marinated seafood, a sachet of sauce and creamed coconut and chilli paste, as well as red peppers and coriander leaf. The meal can be cooked in four minutes on the hob by simply adding a few tablespoons of water to the creamed coconut and chilli paste and simmering with the Keralan sauce until ready, according to Waitrose.
The meals also consist of cod, squid and king prawn Mediterranean stew; wild salmon in lightly seasoned crumb; and a tuna stir-fry that contains tuna strips coated in an Amarillo pepper and soy marinade, garnished with peppers and coriander, that can be ready in six minutes.
Waitrose is also expanding its frozen selection by launching a new range of fish that are fully traceable and sustainably sourced. These include British cod, hake, monkfish chunks and halibut fillets.
It comes as other retailers are bolstering their seafood offering. Seachill’s Saucy Fish Co has secured a nationwide listing with Iceland’s Food Warehouse for its popular frozen lines like salmon with chilli, lime and ginger sauce, and smoked haddock with vinegar cheddar and chive sauce, along with two sauce-centred fishcakes. Seachill also won contracts to supply prawns to Tesco.
Saucy Fish Co is poised to embrace the flexitarian trend with plans to launch a new range of fish products combined with veg in the first quarter of 2019. The brand's sales and marketing director, Amanda Webb, told Food Spark’s sister site The Grocer that the range aims to capitalise on the growing trend for meat reducers to switch to fish.
It’s part of a flood of NPD planned for the new year, which will see the brand launch lines with basa and pollock, and expand its frozen range with new added-value products catering to the last-minute “dinner for tonight” meal occasion, commented Webb.
So is Sparkie going for the American-inspired or seafood selection?
The growth in American ready meals is rather an interesting and unexpected take on things. We would certainly predict the introduction of more flavours from the Americas, but the first two products listed do not fit the trend for authenticity at all, which is going to work to its detriment in the current climate, unless the products themselves are outstanding. The latter two, though, are authentic and just about strange enough to make them stand out in order to drive sales from curiosity. I don’t think this is part of the anti-health trend though – I can’t see anti-health being picked up by the retailers much at all, as the consumers who fall into that go for over-the-top indulgence with things like freak-shakes or eating challenges.
Meanwhile, the growth in fish is likely due to the big boom in flexitarians, but as usual it appears that retailers are quite behind the times. There will still absolutely be a high demand for it, but I think that they may have missed the peak.
The very quick, convenient meal kits are bang on trend, however, as consumers push for convenience while retaining the perception of fresh ingredients and quality in growing measure. Fish has always had a healthier perception, so the health trends are likely to play into this too. Due to this, any innovation in fish is going to be welcomed, as the shelves very rarely feature anything new.
As for the future, complete meal kits have only just begun to hit shelves, so we will see many more of these in the year to come, with a heavy focus on authenticity and traditional dishes from cuisines that we are already familiar with.