Consumers have little time to prepare home-cooked meals anymore. And retailers have seized on this as an opportunity to do the cooking for them. The fresh prepared food sections in grocery stores offer a variety of fresh meal selections. But it’s not just the food that provides that home-cooked feeling, so does the packaging.

Sealed Air Corp. developed the Cryovac Simple Steps plate for the ready-meal category to satisfy consumers’ appetite for quality food with an eating experience that matches. According to Sean Brady, marketing director for Sealed Air Food Care Ready Meals, the plate resembles upscale restaurant dishware.

“This is a far cry from the typical lid and tray packaging that has been so common in the ready-meal category,” he says. Simple Steps was launched nearly 10 years ago with a black tray, but the company started developing the next generation about three years ago and came up with the idea of putting a complete meal on a plate that can be microwaved and taken right to the dinner table.

The polypropylene #5 plate is recyclable and covered with a self-venting, 4ml-thick vacuum skin, eliminating the need to puncture vent holes with a knife. Sealants on the film and tray allow steam pressure to build during the microwave process. The vacuum process eliminates air from the package, preventing the formulation of ice crystals. Thus, the Simple Steps plate can be stored for up to three months in the freezer, which Brady claims is much longer than the conventional tray/lid packaging.

The Simple Steps package, by virtue of the vacuum, is why Brady expects the packaging eventually will appear in the freezer section of grocery stores as well as the fresh meal section. The plate can already be found in the fresh deli section. Currently, grocers Giant Eagle and Ralphs are merchandising product from the New Jersey-based Merri-Makers in the Simple Steps plate in the stores’ fresh ready-meal sections.

Furthermore, retailers have the option for vertical display and product visibility through the vacuum-skin packaging. The Cryovac Simple Steps plate is suited for single-serve meal options.

But Sealed Air isn’t quite finished with the plate. Plans are underway for a rectangular side dish plate, which is currently being tested at Kroger stores in Texas.

For more information:

Sean Brady, 800-391-5645,