Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Prepared Foods - Any Good?

It's no secret that people are buying ever more ready-to-eat foods. They come in many forms - prepared ready-to-eat meals from take-out restaurants or supermarket catering departments, store-bought heat-n-eat, frozen, boil-in-bag, refrigerated, shelf-stable and more.

Because restaurants today are also buying more items prepared elsewhere, I choose to divide the market not between restaurant (or specialty store) and major store - but rather between items produced locally and at small scale and those which are commercial products in mass-manufacture and wide distribution. And the question I want to pose today pertains to mass-produced and widely distributed products.

I confess I have sometimes enjoyed commercial prepared food items. When I was a kid, I recall enjoying the occasional meal at my next-door-neighbor's house because I could indulge in what was - even then at 10 - the guilty contraband pleasure of Campbell's soup or Chef Boyardi ravioli. What salty or mushy bliss respectively. But I digress.

So yes, then and since there have been commercial products I've enjoyed. But I don't recall any that were really very good. When I've enjoyed these things, there's always been an element of the perverse about the experience - even at 10. Have I missed something really great? Is my recall faulty and perhaps I've had, but forgotten something important? Can you point me at any mass-produced ready-to-eat main-dish products that are better than OK? Products you seek not because of their convenience, but because of their quality?

I'm asking for two reasons. First, it's just part of my charter here to record great tastes and keep the memory alive. And second because I want to know if it's possible, and how. This is an important question because I'm interested in the envelope of possibility for prepared food products. If a producer has something really great at small scale - is it possible to scale up and reach a large audience while retaining quality? Are there practical limits that always get in the way? What are they? And so on. If there are examples of true greatness at large commercial scale, I want to understand how they've done it and whether their success has broader implications for other producers.

Please call out deserving products in comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Numerous frozen products come to mind. Pierogies, blintzes, ravioli, etc. Many such mass-produced products are quite good.