A Short History of Ready Meals
Ready meals/TV dinners/Meals in minutes can be traced right back into the 1940’s and perhaps even earlier. The first success on a larger scale can however be credited to C. A. Swanson & Co. when they launched their Turkey dinner: served in an aluminium foil tray and making use of surplus Turkey sales from Thanksgiving 1953. In their first year of ready meal ventures they sold around 5,000 units, with this figure rising to a staggering 10,000,000 the following year.
The unforeseen success of Swanson’s TV dinners resulted in them discontinuing their successful butter and margarine business in order to concentrate on a poultry-based line of canned and frozen products. During the 1960’s Swanson’s began to add desserts and breakfast to the ready meal menu.
It took a few more years for ready meals to become the norm in the UK and this was mainly due to the fact that domestic freezers were not in most households until the 1970’s/80’s.
There are many reasons as to why TV dinners took off as soon as they hit the supermarkets. All you needed to have at home was an oven and a piece of cutlery. The meals came in packaging which could be put into the oven (nowadays more commonly the microwave) and eaten straight form the tray which would fit on many people’s TV tables. This saved washing up pots, pans, and dishes following a meal.
Meals can be ready within minutes with minimal effort which became ideal for someone living by themselves. On the way back from work, you can pick up a meal and know you’re getting a substantial dinner. As years went on, the variety of meals you could find in the supermarkets grew and grew until you have what we see today. Whether you want Italian, Indian, Chinese, French, British, Brazilian cuisine, you name it, you’ll most likely be able to find a ready meal version of it somewhere.
At What Cost?
Given that the entire concept of ready meals is founded upon getting rid of surplus, prices were never remarkably high, and you can still find some bargain meals. At the same time, the inexpensive nature of ready meals is largely what contributes to it’s poor reputation among some critics.
If companies are able to produce these meals, sell them at such low prices and presumably still turn a profit, it raises some questions as to exactly what goes into them. Below I’ve attached some links to articles which have uncovered some undesirable ingredients going in to some of the bargain heat-to-eats:
Another big problem is that some ready meals which are marketed as being ‘fresh’ are not always as they seem. The ingredients which go into these dinners might have been previously frozen and traveled hundreds of miles before being thawed, cooked, and then labelled as fresh. This can go hand-in-hand with another big issue with ready meals which is the preservatives which some use in order to transport products and keep them fresh. Very high levels of salts and sugars have been found in many meals.
All Doom and Gloom?
The above section usually tends to focus on the cheaper end of ready meals. There is a large developing section of more expensive ready meals which place a great importance on sourcing good produce, and following good practices. However when you bring these two ethos’s into play, there can be a growth in price to the extent where cooking your meals fresh suddenly gains some of its appeal again.
The rise of vegetarianism,veganism, and a general push toward healthy lifestyles has encouraged people to take more notice of where their food comes from and this knowledge alone is enough that people will pay more for the product. Many of us now want to do our part to support British, and to buy from sustainable sources.
This has resulted in ready meals produced by some companies becoming key components of diets such as Weight Watchers, Slimming World, and Muscle Food. This is perhaps the closest example of ready meals becoming something which is ready for the future.
What this means for Springfield
We currently supply to a few clients who buy our chicken fresh and prepare meals which they sell as a ready prepared meal. We’re very happy to be on this end of the spectrum where our chicken is being combined with other quality produce. If you prefer to cook yourself however, why not try making your own ready meals? You’ll know exactly what goes into them, and you’ll be surprised at the money you can save by planning your meals.