Convenience foods are very likely to be foods of the future, says Ms Goi. In today’s markets, already we are seeing a strong and steady growth in convenience foods like ready meals, finger food and instant paste, which is a living proof of the coming and future trend.
When asked why this is so, Ms Goi said that consumers are moving towards less structured meal occasions, resulting from factors such as busy lifestyles, more unconventional working hours, a rise in single households, and an increase in the number of working women. “Eating is now dictated by work and leisure activities, rather than taking place at set hours of the day.”
As such, the average person more than often finds that they are too busy to prepare meals from scratch, opting instead for snacks or light meals. Manufacturers have also stepped up their product offerings to meet the needs of such consumers, using the advanced technology of today to make their convenience foods as good, fresh and healthy as homemade foods. This is another factor driving the growth for convenience foods.
According to Ms Goi, convenience foods today are so advanced that even some restaurants and food stalls are buying these to further process themselves instead of making these from scratch, which might require time and added costs for ingredients, and have inconsistencies in quality due to different levels of skill in people involved in preparing such foods.
This is especially beneficial for restaurateurs or hawkers who make foods that require skilled chefs or professionals. One example that she gave is hargow skin, an essential in the dim sum which is made from dough. A tedious process is involved in the making of hargow skin, and only skilled dim sum chefs can make a good skin as it needs to be thin, translucent, yet stretchy.
Traditionally, the chef adds boiling water into flour and immediately kneads it into dough. As such, chefs’ hands are often scalded by hot water or cut by the sharp cleaver which is required to flatten and slice the dough. Depending on the chef’s skill level and experience, the resultant hargow skins can also vary in thickness and quality.
Therefore, to maintain consistency in hargow skins, Ms Goi’s company offers frozen hargow skins that provide an easy solution for food service providers, dim sum manufacturers, chefs, or the average consumer who might wish to make their own dim sum instead of visiting a restaurant. This therefore also eliminates the need for a skilled chef and reduces risk of injury in the kitchen as making hargow is now an easy process.
Challenges With Convenience
Creating a frozen convenience food however is by no means an easy task. In order to be accepted by consumers, especially with consumers becoming increasingly conscious about making healthy choices and avoiding ‘overly’ processed foods, frozen convenience foods need to seem ‘freshly made.’ Manufacturers need to consider the combination of ingredients used, innovation in packaging, and the technology for the processing of such foods.
Also, consumers today are increasingly looking for ‘clean’ and natural foods. Accommodating to this demand can increase the manufacturing costs or cost of ingredients, a challenge that manufacturers would need to balance out with the retail price in order to retain margin profits and not discourage consumers from purchasing these.
Launching convenience foods into several markets would also need to be considered carefully. Changing consumer perceptions, demographic shifts and adapting to different flavour preferences by consumers in different markets would also need to be considerations for manufacturers. Manufacturers need to constantly improve and change to meet the demand of the needs of the market.
It would therefore be good for manufacturers to have a strong research and development team or partner who can study the current market trends and improve on existing product offerings, and also come up with new ideas and offerings, says Ms Goi.
Automation and upgrading of manpower-dependent facilities would also be another way to help manufacturers overcome manpower or labour shortages, if any, and reduce the need for manpower as well to optimise production lines.
Note: Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing will be one of more than 3,000 exhibitors present at Food&HotelAsia2016, held from 12-15 April, 2016, at the Singapore Expo.