In November 2020, German grocery giant Lidl launched three ready-to-eat (RTE) meals under its Chef’s Select brand into its Swedish market footprint. The three meals—Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes, Sausage Stroganoff, and Pasta Pomodoro—are made by long-time Lidl partner Smålandskräftan, a Swedish cookery and private-label food producer.
Smålandskräftan employed what's called the Micvac method on this Chef’s Select ready-made meal applications. According to Micvac, its patented method affords the products a far longer shelf life compared to other ready meals, without compromising on taste, nutrition, or consistency. The meals are produced and chilled, not frozen, and only require warming by the consumer.
“Our ready meals produced with the Micvac method taste as if they’re homemade. We have great faith in this launch, and are also planning to introduce the dishes abroad,” says Alexander Weiss, Purchasing Manager Food at Lidl. “We were very interested when Smålandskräftan told us about the technology, and the products have not let us down. For me as a purchaser, it’s extremely important that the products have as long a shelf life as possible without affecting the quality, and the Micvac method makes sure they stay fresh for a very long time. Since they were only recently launched, we don’t have any statistics yet, but we believe they’ll reduce food waste.”
The Micvac method
The Micvac method is a microwave application that cooks food in its package. On the packaging and processing line, thermoformed polypropylene (PP) trays supplied by Faerch plast are denested and conveyed to a depositor that fills them with the raw ingredients. Next, the trays are lidded with a PP/PA laminate film. The lidding material is sealed to the tray in a sealing machine from G.Mondini. A specialized valve that allows steam to vent from then applied to the lidding material of each sealed tray, but the mechanism only allows venting to occur after a pre-determined pressure is reached during the next process, which is a microwave cook.
When the cook is finishing, and the pressure inside the sealed tray reduces, the valve re-closes to maintain a barrier for the cooked food. The finished, cooked tray maintains a negative internal pressure. Secondary packaging involves a printed paperboard bellyband, which is automatically applied after the tray is sufficiently cooled. Compared with many other ways of making ready meals, Micvac says its method better preserves vitamins and flavor. This means that the artificial E-number additives can be minimized.
Plans for an international launch
Lidl reports that these products have been well-received on the market since their launch in November 2020, and the ambition is to launch them on further European markets moving forward.
“I truly believe in the Micvac method, and in the longer term I hope we can export these dishes to other Lidl countries. Taste is of course subjective, but many find that dishes made using the Micvac technology taste delicious – as if they were homemade, even. We have long been looking to develop the ready meal segment, and with this method we can do so with products of high nutritional content, which also taste great and look appetizing,” Weiss adds.