By Emily Radcliffe, Product Developer, Ready Meals and Soups

Developing a new line of products is an exciting and collaborative process. It takes lots of creative minds to turn an idea into a reality.

From start to finish, the process can take anywhere between 9 – 12 months to turn an idea into a new product that customers can get their hands on. This means we’re always planning ahead to create something that’s not only delicious, but that customers will want to buy.

Customers are becoming conscious eaters and they want tasty foods which provide key health benefits. It’s a real privilege to be able to work on new and innovative products, bringing the very best of Co-op food to peoples meals.

The process begins

I love exploring flavours and how we can bring together the best combinations of ingredients in an authentic way to create amazing dishes. I always think about how we can deliver great quality through freshness, textures and different flavours.

My most recent range to launch was our new Healthy Ready Meals in January, which I started to develop back in April.

Spotting trends in the market is a key part of my job. To understand what people want to eat, I needed to take inspiration from lots of places. This may be from restaurant menus, cookbooks, and magazines but also to social media platforms such as Instagram to see what kind of foods people are engaging with.

I also use our Foodolgy hub which is a great resource to understand how trends are influencing food across the country and abroad.

Fit Kitchen products and Joe Wicks are brilliant as they focus on recognisable ingredients, flavour, freshness and protein. I also took a trip to London to visit some healthy eating restaurants, cafes and street food trends, where there was a real emphasis on freshness and vegetables

Armed with all this information, I started to create four new products for the range:

  • King Prawn Linguini with cherry tomatoes, spinach and a touch of chilli heat
  • Chicken Pesto Pasta with a fresh basil pesto drizzle
  • Chicken and Rainbow Veg Curry, a Malaysian style curry with fluffy jasmine rice
  • Memphis BBQ Chicken & Sweet Potato, with beans, peppers and kale

Bringing the range to life

Freshtime, one of our suppliers played a vital role in bringing the products to life. They’re passionate about produce and together, we’ve worked on products that taste amazing and look amazing on shelf. We’ve especially focused on the layering of products to really showcase the variety of fresh ingredients and the quality of the meals. We also worked together to balance the recipes so they all contained at least 1 of 5 a day, at least a source of protein and under 500 calories.

The design team helped us find a way to package each meal, highlighting the key health benefits in a meaningful way. Sustainability was incredibly important, and I’m delighted that each of the meals come in a clip-on lid reusable plastic tray – perfect to reuse for lunches or meal prep. Best of all, once you’re done with it, everything is fully recyclable.

Finally, the most nerve wracking but exhilarating part is getting the product on the shelf and in our customers hands. It’s a weird feeling to think that something you’ve spent countless hours perfecting is now going to be part of someone’s dinner.

The Healthy Ready Meals range is a celebration of healthy eating in a new way. There’s zero compromise on taste and health benefits – you can have it all.  I’d love to know your thoughts on these new lines if you’ve tried them. Let me know in the comments below!