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Many innovative ready-to-eat products are transforming supermarket shelves in Australia, and in recent years we’ve seen a ramp-up of offerings, not only from traditional food manufacturers, but also from the retailers, fresh produce suppliers, and diet solutions companies.

The latest new niches include international cuisine, as well as premium, celebrity-chef endorsed meals, and calorie controlled offerings, and demand has also increased for home-delivered meals that are well-balanced and prepared by chefs – or portioned out with recipes attached so consumers can cook the meal themselves.

We are also now seeing the early movers in some other emerging categories, such as the healthy kids movement.

Although it’s already a mainstream trend in the healthfood aisle, with a proliferation corn, rice, wheat and potato-based snacks that are low in salt and high on flavour, this market has been left relatively untapped by ready meal makers.

Likewise, while innovative new flavours such as beetroot and sweet potato, as well as native ingredients and ancient grains are making their way into packaged food, they could also prove to be fertile ground in the read-to-eat space.

And further opportunities abound in the specialty diet and nutrition space with Kosher-certified, gluten-free, vegetarian, certified organic, protein-enriched and dairy-free items expected to soon find their way into the mainstream ready meal space.

Ticking new boxes

The processed foods segment includes prepared (ready) meals and frozen/chilled meals and desserts, and Australian manufacturers are increasingly moving into specialty areas such as:

Flavour: meals that are specially designed to match emerging flavour trends like the use of native ingredients or that tap into new types of global cuisine.

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Convenience: heat/ thaw portion designs, ready-to-eat serves, safe/innovative packaging designs.

Nutrition: salt/ fat/ sugar-reduced, fortified foods, organic, gluten-free, or containing natural ingredients.

Functionality: food with added health benefits such as probiotics/ prebiotics.