By Justin Donaldson, Unitherm Executive Chef
Roasted peppers, steamed apples, flame-grilled peaches — these are just a few of the products processors have tested on our equipment lately. In fact, we recently built the largest flame grill we’ve ever designed, and it will be used for searing onions, peppers, corn, and apples.
As consumers become more focused on health and wellness, they’re incorporating more fruits and vegetables into their diets. Not surprisingly, Millennials are leading the charge. A 2016 NPD study found that consumers under 40 are driving growth in the fresh and frozen vegetable markets — in the decade leading up to the survey, this group increased their consumption of fresh vegetables by 52% and frozen vegetables by 59%. There’s no indication this trend will stop anytime soon.
Here are some of the processes we’ve worked on with customers to help them meet the growing demand for fruits and vegetables.
The meal kit market is expanding and diversifying. While some provide the raw ingredients with recipes, others take a more plug-and-play approach. For example, several meal kit makers now offer lunch kits with all of the ingredients already cooked and chopped so that all the consumer has to do is assemble the meal. We’ve worked with some of them on processes to flame sear and roast the vegetable components of the kits.
We’ve also seen a move toward vegetables destined for microwavable ready meals, which are now available in a variety of formats (trays, pouches, etc.). Typically, these vegetables are flame seared, but not fully cooked, so consumers can put them in the microwave without overcooking them.
Finally, the combination of high-pressure processing and skin packaging gives cooked produce a much longer shelf life than was previously possible. It also allows consumers to see the items in the package, which means those items must look appetizing. We’ve worked with customers to process not only produce, but also proteins as well as rice and other grains to include in shelf-stable products and meals.
To learn more about how thermal processing adds value to produce, explore our Vegetables page. If you’d like to visit one of our solution centers to test drive the processes, you can schedule your visit here.