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Appetite for change: Meeting the demands of the ready meal market

As the nation’s appetite for frozen and ready-made meals increases, so too does the demand on food manufacturers. What key ingredients are needed to boost production lines in 2020?

The nation’s appetite for ready meals is growing. According to the Grocer, meals in the frozen category saw a 3.4% value jump in 12 months to £6.3bn.

The UK is the largest ready-meal market in Europe, posting an average of 2.5% year-on-year growth since 2003. France and Germany also have a well-established ready meals market. 

Speaking to Agriculture and Food Magazine last year, consumer sociologist Nina Preus from the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, said the consistent growth of the ready-made meal market was mostly down to modern lifestyles:

 “For a long time, the ready meals category has been supported by consumer demand for convenience as lifestyles have become increasingly hectic. Time is a scarce commodity and a good work-life balance has become harder to achieve. This has paved the way for different types of convenient ready meals that reduce preparation and cooking time.”

Consumers’ appetites are also changing. Just last month, Iceland revealed that in response to The Grocer’s findings and its own extensive research, it will now produce more than 550 new or improved products. It will also be launching “limited edition” products over the next 12 months to match key seasonal trends such as Christmas, as well as meeting rising consumer demands to frequently try new products. The rise and rise of veganism also poses a new challenge to food producers to provide for the dietary needs of today’s climate and diet-conscious consumer.

Production lines in their turn must respond to the challenge. They must be fast, highly accurate and built to the very highest quality standards. Key performance indicators of any manufacturing solution are:

  • High accuracy

Consistency of product is essential. Ready meal products in trays, such as cottage pies and lasagnas, will need a high degree of accuracy when in production and packaging. Sparc’s checkweigher Sentinel is capable of calculating Average Finished Weight Variance (giveaway) and also provides a controlled feedback signal to upstream equipment used to portion the product, which will increase or decrease the fill quantity.

  • Fast detection and rejection

As much as producers work to ensure they avoid contaminants in food production, mistakes do happen – particularly in fast-moving lines. Some checkweighing machines can be modified to have X-ray functionality. This can provide 100% accuracy bone detection and metal detection with swift, automatic rejection that does not disrupt the flow of production. Sparc’s Sentinel machines can be built with bespoke functionality, so that they include X-ray technology. No one-size-fits-all on production lines, so it is worth browsing the type of functionality that could be added to your line.

  • Minimising downtime

Reduce downtime or eradicate it entirely with an automatic checkweighing system. Sparc’s Sentinel range can process up to 200 packs a minute. 

Its ability to calculate giveaway and automatically reject contaminated products enables production to run smoothly without any extra downtime. In addition, performance data, including reports on live production, QA and batch information can be sent directly to the network or wireless devices.

Sparc’s range of Sentinel automated checkweighers is designed to streamline today’s production lines and is the perfect solution to meeting the demands of the ready-meal market. Find out more about the Sentinel here.

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