Skin pack meals offer greater shelf life and maximise convenience, expert tells SIAL delegates
A trend highlighted during the most recent edition of SIAL Paris was the increasing popularity of skin pack frozen meals.
Prof Junghoon Moon, an associate professor in the Food Biz Lab at Seoul National University in South Korea, delivered a presentation during which he showcased some of the products that he helped to develop.
Some ingredients are half-cooked, others are half grilled, some are raw (such as zucchini) and the foods are packaged under vacuum conditions using a tray and film. The consumer is then able to simply cook all of the ingredients together.
“You put all of these ingredients into one pan and stir for five minutes. Then [they will be] perfectly cooked. Very convenient,” he told the audience.
A major benefit of skin pack frozen meals, sometimes referred to as SkinPac meals, is the reduction in the amount of food waste, Prof Moon said during his presentation.
Although film is used for the ingredients, the quantity of packaging with skin pack meals is much lower than is seen with some other methods of preparing and storing foods, he said.
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With standard methods of producing packaged meals, where the food is kept cold but not frozen, he said that it was not possible to include as wide a range of ingredients in one package, largely because the exchange of moisture between different products caused the spoiling of food.
Also, when ingredients are packaged under cold but not frozen conditions, typically “there was so much package garbage”, Prof Moon said, but with skin pack frozen meals, there was just “a very small amount”.
“With this one [referring to a typical cold packaged meal] the shelf life is just one week,” he said. “As you very well know, fresh groceries don’t have shelf life. It’s more convenient but it doesn’t have [a long] shelf life. That’s not good. But frozen, the shelf life is one year.”
Sometimes, with packaged meals kept in cold conditions, expiry dates might be just a few days after the product hits the shelves, Prof Moon told attendees.
Under frozen conditions, though, the shelf life may be nine months or one year, he said, highlighting several products to the audience.
“Much longer shelf life and, as you see, extremely convenient. And no food waste. And no packaging garbage,” he said.
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Many of the innovations in meal kits have developed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prof Moon indicated. The sector has faced significant challenges in recent times.
“In Korea we experienced a very severe decrease in the meal kit business. To overcome these problems … the Korean manufacturers [decided] to increase shelf life,” he said.
“The problem is green leaves. It’s very difficult to freeze. So we need more R&D. And we need more focus on convenience. So don’t force your customer to use a knife. And peeling, creaming them. Just provide the most pleasure in the process of cooking – steaming or frying or boiling.”
He said that significant amounts of investment were being made in research and development, including by hiring more staff, to overcome challenges and create more convenient skin pack meal kits.
Prof Moon noted that South Korea has a greater proportion of prepared meals than is the case in the European Union.
One issue raised by an audience member was whether it was more expensive to transport skin pack meals as they needed to be kept frozen, compared to meals that needed only to be kept cold.
Prof Moon indicated that this was not a major hurdle, because typically the meals were sold by retailers rather than being taken directly to consumers by delivery companies. As a result, the existing infrastructure of freezers in shops can be used and additional investment is not needed.
He also insisted that overall costs were not higher with frozen skin pack meals, largely because of their longer shelf life.
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