Catherine Fellows surveys the ready-prepared meals market and finds an awful
' lot of lasagne.
Research for this piece has been a revelation to me. I have been a slave to vegetable shop queues and recipe books. unaware that any culinary efforts I might make have been preempted. Immaculate boeuf bourguignons and chicken tikka masalas are lined up in their thousands in mockery. ready to be grasped and flung into supermarket trolleys. Eat them and you will be free to do what you want to do. to get loaded. . . to have a good time . . .
Marks and Spencer dominate the quality convenience food market — over half their Edinburgh food hall is now given over to pre-prepared
meals that need nothing more than a handful ofthcir squeaky-green lettuce and fifteen minutes in the oven —- or three in a microwave. Whilst some are lucky enough to do their weekly shopping in this
delectable place. far more come in
regularly to pick up something for
' the mealthatevening. Unlikethc
other supermarkets. where frozen
; lines are the biggest sellers. Marks an Spencer‘s hallmark is refrigerated
3 meals that are prepared daily from
fresh ingredients. travel overnight to the numerous outlets. and are instantly desirable. Many ofthese are suitable for freezing. but it is probably cheaper to buy the ready frozen varieties available here. There are also Long-Life meals, which are cooked in their containers and sealed before any bacteria can get in. They keep for up to a year and are very convenient requiring no
. refridgeration and taking 15 minutes
to cook — you put them in boiling water unopened and fight with the hot packet later. There is something to satisfy every craving, from a hermetically sealed packet of bubble and squeak that costs 79p and takes a
few minutes to fry to oven-ready fresh sole bonne femme at £3.99 for two portions.
Mary Mochlan of Marks and Spencer observed that whilst this portion-eating is particularly popular with single people. students and pensioners. it is also a feature of an increasing number of families.
The social institution ofthe family
meal is crumbling. as members lead more individual lives and demand individual diets: the vegetarian, the low cholestrol, the low calorie. Safeways stock perhaps the widest variety of brand names as well as their own ranges of Long-Life. frozen. dried and chilled ready meals. Their menus typify convenience food: numerous pasta dishes including the inevitable tagliatelle carbonara, beefcurry. sweet and sour chicken, and moussaka. Eye-catching are Superdine's lurid Fast Break - scrambled eggs. potato, sausage. bacon and tomato ready in three minutes and Sharwoods beautifully packaged oriental ranges. Safeways also have an impressive display of frozen meals for vegetarians,
including Vegetable Feasts (shepherdess pie — ‘spicy lentils, vegetables and peanuts topped with mashed potatoes). Response (leek and pecan pancakes sound interesting). and Quorn (fungal meat substitute) ranges. Frozen meals sell best — the small quantity of fresh dishes here reﬂects demand. The selection at Savacentre is similar, with more emphasis on Salnsbury's own brands. They have some mouthwatering fresh dishes including Indian, Thai. Mexican and vegetarian meals. They also stock fresh pasta and separate tubs of sauces. I thought it was very good value for money, but I saw one woman put back some chicken tikka, shake her head, and say. ‘Oh no — you‘re as well making your own.‘ Wm Low. like Safeways. are finding it difficult to break into the fresh ready meals market. and lament the lack ofScottish suppliers. They have a smaller, more conservative selection of menus from the principal frozen and Long-Life lines— you are more likely to find beefstew and dumplings than chicken masala here. Perhaps the best evidence that pre-prepared food is shrugging off its junky, low-brow image is that it is increasingly sold in whole food shops: healthy eaters are busy too. Real Foods in Edinburgh stocks several frozen ranges, which include such delicacies as aubergine. cider and lentil gratin and Cantonese stir fry vegetables in blackbean sauce. Also available are Prewetts Long-Life meals and dry nut roast mixes. One can imagine that there is great sc0pe here. as tasty vegetarian food can be so time-consuming to prepare. Grassroots in Glasgow is in the process ofexpanding its stock in response to great demand. Customers here can be sure that they are not subjecting themselves to alarming E numbers. colourings or vast quantities ofwheatflour and sugar, two cheap ingredients which bulk out many products. As yet. there is no obligation to disclose the proportions of ingredients in foods.
Another manifestation ofthe convenience boom is the specialist retailer. As well as the pizzas for which they are both renowned, Edinburgh‘s Cosmo’s and Glasgow's Fazzi’s make their own pasta, which can be bought with tubs ofsauce, or in oven-ready portions. Both are enormously popular. selling out every day— and the smell. . .
mmm . . .
One thing that all these places have in common is — lasagne. On Thurs 23 Aug, Marks and Spencer in Edinburgh sold 1201 Iasagnes, their best selling meal along with tagliatelle and chicken kiev. Chosen as a product to represent a number of different brands we took a random selection of ten different species. These were put in front of a tasting panel of an equally random group of List contributors.
I St Michael's Fresh Pasta Lasagna 283g;£1.39.
85 The Elsi 31 August — 13 September 1990