Processed convenience foods such as ready meals are hugely popular nowadays. No surprises there: the food is cheap, easy to prepare and relatively tasty. In recent years, the market has created a distinction between standard and luxury ready meals. The former are basic low-priced products. The latter are more expensive quality meals. So what are the challenges from a packaging designer’s perspective for both these categories?
Saving money on ready meal packaging
What usually happens in a highly competitive market is that brands try to distinguish themselves by coming up with really creative packages. Ready meal packaging, however, cannot be regarded as highly innovative. Most brands restrict themselves to the traditional micro-wave resistant plastic trays and cellophane covers.
Cheaper ready meals are part of the highly competitive processed food market, with brands battling each other to offer the cheapest meal on the shelf. If you can get a lasagna for under $1, why would you make the effort to cook a fresh one from scratch?
Evidently, packaging is one of the things ready meal manufacturers in the cheaper market segment try to save money on. The less material used, the better. Innovation has little place in a price-driven market. Furthermore, as the packaging material is usually the first thing that goes into the waste bin – half of the time even without looking at the box – it’s no wonder packaging designers keep it plain and simple.
The emergence of luxury ready meal packaging
That’s not to say there aren’t creative ready meal packaging designs out there. In recent years, the so-called luxury ready meals have grown with a staggering rate. These premium ready meals are growing rapidly as consumers search for products containing quality locally-sourced ingredients. Packaging for these products doesn’t only focus on health benefits; it’s often sturdier as well and looks better too.