Military tech for ready meals

Military tech for ready meals

Ready meals, online groceries and food delivery services are rapidly expanding across a global market.


Wed, 06 Sep 2017


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According to the food and grocery research body IGD (Institute Grocery Distribution), the online grocery market will double its value to £17.2 billion between 2015 and 2020, a total increase of 3% within the UK grocery market. Within this growing market, the ready meal category shows an increasing demand in the UK, as today’s shoppers are asking for easy to prepare food at a low price.

The UK is one of Europe’s major consumers of ready meals and according to Eagle, the sales of prepared ready meals in the UK has risen from £3.8 billion in 2012 up to £4.9 billion in 2017 - an increase of 28.4%.

In terms of online grocery purchases, AmazonFresh is the largest online retailer and grocery delivery service in the world and it is rapidly growing its share in the now lucrative market. One innovation Amazon is actively investigating is the application of a modern military technique known as Microwave-Assisted Thermal Sterilization (MATS) to produce non-refrigerating ready meals.

The application of this technology into the mainstream grocery market could see the company significantly reduce the price of ready meals by cutting costs on cooling of the product through the supply chain.

How does it work?

The innovative MATS technology can be applied to produce shelf-stable ready meals. The technique involves sealing food in packages, then placing the packages into a pressurised water vessel and heating them with microwaves. This gentle technology kills food pathogens and bacteria and most importantly, compared to traditional pasteurisation techniques it retains the food’s nutrients, taste and texture.

Traditionally, food packages are pasteurised in pressure cookers for up to an hour, which destroys most essential nutrients and significantly alters its flavour and taste. Using MATS, ready meals do not need to be refrigerated during transport and are storable at ambient temperature for up to one year.

MATS was originally developed at the Washington State University to help improve the quality of military rations and ultimately to allow meals to be efficiently transported and stored.

The start-up company 915 Labs, based in Denver, licensed the MATS from the Washington State University and is currently collaborating with AmazonFresh.

AmazonFresh hopes to have non-refrigerated ready meals in early 2018, providing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the technology.

AmazonFresh’s pioneering technology

AmazonFresh aims to optimise quality and cost efficiency within the ready meal category. If MATS technology gains acceptance in the market, it would allow Amazon to take a first-mover advantage in the emerging shelf-stable ready meal category. Current pilot products include vegetable frittata and beef stew. 

Whether the consumers trust and accept the new MATS technology is yet to be decided. The products have obvious advantages for campers or survivalists, but is the everyday consumer interested in these non-refrigerating ready-to-eat meals? Perhaps a cheaper price point will help products gain traction in this competitive category.

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