Aisle Spy

Ready meals from casual restaurants: how the chains are colonising supermarkets

From Las Iguanas to Bella Italia, a raft of familiar names have begun releasing retail ranges.

26 October 2018
asianchainsdessertitalianLatin Americanready mealssupermarkets
Bella Italia ready meals

If consumers fancy a meal from their favourite chain, they no longer have to put on clothes and head out the door. A growing number of brands have been launching product ranges into the supermarkets, putting themselves front and centre for those looking for convenience.

This week, Latin American chain Las Iguanas made its grocery debut with chilled ready meals, available in Sainsbury’s. Eight mains based on dishes inspired by Peru, Brazil and Mexico have been revealed, including curries, tortillas and risotto.

The options cater to meat eaters with dishes like the creamy lime and peanut flavoured (but nut-free) chicken xinxim (curry); chunky beef and black bean chilli; Mexican chilli beef burrito; coconut chicken Bahia Brazilian curry and smoky chipotle chicken enchiladas. Meanwhile,vegetarians can gobble down sweet potato and butternut squash enchiladas as well as cauliflower and corn quinotto (risotto made with quinoa), while the butternut squash moqueca (stew) is vegan.

Sainsbury’s said the launch was in response to research that found 53% of Brits are curious to try Latin American food.

“That’s why we jumped on the chance to partner with leading restaurant Las Iguanas to launch our delicious new range of ready meals,” supermarket buyer James Lyndall said. “We’re proud to say that these meals aren’t available at any other supermarket in the UK.” 

From restaurant menus to ready meals

The more by Las Iguanas follows similar actions taken by Bella Italia, which launched a range of 10 frozen ready meals into Tesco back in September. This included a selection of starters, mains and desserts, all of which are or have been on Bella Italia’s a la carte menu.

The recipes were developed by executive chef Vittorio Lettierito build on the authentic Italian dishes served in restaurants.Wherever possible, the products use the same ingredient suppliers as those employed by Bella Italia outlets.

The line-up includes funghi arrosto (mushrooms in a creamy mascarpone, spinach and garlic sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese) and polpette (Italian-style pork and beef meatballs in a tomato and herb sauce, also topped with mozzarella cheese).

Mains have a heavy pasta focus, from conchiglioni Calabrese (shells with fiery tomato sauce and sliced salsiccia picante cured sausage) and beef and red wine ravioli, to Sicilian pasta trulli, which consists of a Sicilian-style caponata sauce accompanied by red wine, diced aubergine, grilled red peppers, tomatoes and basil, topped with crumbled goat's cheese.

Two desserts, tiramisu and lemon cheesecake, are also included in the range.

“We’re restaurant operators at heart, with a rich heritage, but we also have a wealth of experience that can be utilised to tap into other markets, such as retail,” said James Spragg, chief operating officer of Bella Italia’s parent company, Casual Dining Group. “As well as focusing on menu innovation and creating exceptional dining experiences, we’re also determined to evolve and find new ways to capitalise on our expertise and experience.

“We are immensely proud of our Bella brand and the progress we have made on menu innovation, championing authentic and healthy flavours and produce over recent years. We are confident that the rigorous testing and quality control measures we have put in place with Tesco will guarantee an end product we’re both proud of.”

World flavours

Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner have also gone on the retail offensive, entering Tesco in mid-September thanks to a tie-up between the supermarket and Boparan Restaurant Group, which owns the restaurant brands.

Giraffe introduced four starters and six main meals built around world flavours into 300 Tesco freezers, including chicken tinga (cooked pieces of seared chicken thigh in a smoky tomato and chipotle chilli sauce with sliced red onion and peppers), Sri Lankan prawn curry and harissa-spiced lamb kofta.

Ed’s, meanwhile, covered desserts like cookie dough and banoffee pie.

Tom Crowley, CEO OF Boparan Restaurant Group, said at the time that the launch would enable customers to access the brands through a new channel.

“In the case of Giraffe, we are launching some brilliant new dishes representing the brand’s strength in classic and emerging flavours from across the globe, whilst our dessert choices from Ed’s Easy Diner are true American classics,” he commented.

There is the possibility of the range going into additional stores and a range expansion later on the year, he added.

Perhaps it’s hoping to emulate the success of Itsu, which has had a grocery presence since 2012. Its retail offering now includes miso soups, frozen dumplings, seaweed thins and noodles.

Recently, the Japanese brand added what it claims is the UK’s first sweet Japanese-style gyoza. The dessert dumplings, which are vegan, come frozen in flavours like chocolate and banana, caramelised apple and sweet berry, and are available in Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado.

Itsu founder Julian Metcalfe said: “Since launching as one of the first premium brands into the frozen aisle last year, we’ve brought a whole new shopper into this category. As a result, we’ve seen huge success with our dinner dumplings and have not only established but continued to lead the gyoza market.”

Wahaca also reformulated its meal kits and salsas back in August, which were originally launched into Tesco in 2016, and added dry seasoning mixes to its grocery range.

So is Sparkie keen for some couch time and a chain ready meal?


Sparkie says:

I think the interesting part of this is that they went for a frozen range. Frozen food always has a negative quality perception with the general populace. This could be either bad for the brand or good for the perception of frozen food in general, time will tell.

I had noticed the influx of restaurant brands and had mentioned before that I was expecting them to take up part of the meal kits trend. At the end of the day, they already have the brand and recipes, so with relatively minor tweaks it could be a new source of income for them. It is still an expensive and time consuming process but if the products are good, why not?

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