One-Plate Frozen Meals Proving Popular; New Recipes, Reasonable Prices Drawing New Customers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuka Sakai takes out a split-tray meal from the freezer in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Split-tray frozen meals that contain a main dish with sides are delighting people of all ages as a quick and easy way to ensure a balanced nutritional intake.

Frozen food makers have been introducing new products one after another recently, giving consumers a wide range of options, from fancy fresh-frozen pasta to a hearty rice bowl and noodle set.

Yuka Sakai, 51, an office worker in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, has a refrigerator stocked with the frozen meals.

“I used to heat up the main dish and the sides separately, but they can be microwaved all at once, which is convenient,” she said. “I use them when I’m busy or don’t feel like cooking.”

Sakai’s 79-year-old father recommended them to her in the summer.

She said she felt safe knowing that he was eating them because “they don’t need fire to cook.

“The elderly can eat a well-balanced meal this way,” Sasaki said.

In September, Nichirei Foods Inc. released the “Three-Star Plate” series. The selling point of the series is the fresh-frozen pasta. The main dishes — from a choice of a hamburger steak, sauteed chicken or fried chicken with tartar sauce — all come with pasta and an accompanying sauce.

“We installed new equipment for the pasta, which is frozen right after its boiled, so that we could achieve its characteristic sticky texture,” a person in charge at Nichirei said.

Nippn Corp., which has been in the split-tray frozen meal business for a long time, released a hamburger steak and pasta set as part of its “Yokubari Series” (Greedy Series) in 2015. It then expanded the series with a range of rice dishes, such as clam rice with mackerel simmered in miso. The total number of products in the series is 15 items, including dishes from Western, Japanese and Chinese cuisines.

Its rice products use more than 10 ingredients and are popular among women and the elderly. In September, it released a hearty mazesoba soupless noodles and pork rice bowl set, which is popular among male consumers.

The company’s split-tray meals gained popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, and are appreciated as a way to have a quick lunch. Sales have increased tenfold since 2015.

Nissui Corp. released the “Manzoku Plate” (Satisfying Plate) series in September 2022. The set meal comes with rice and one of four main dishes — hamburger steak, ginger pork, fried chicken with tartar sauce or mapo tofu — and famous chefs have been involved in their creation.

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Top: Nichirei Foods inc.’s hamburger steak and ketchup-seasoned pasta Middle: Nippn Corp.’s seasoned rice and stir-fried chicken and vegetables with black vinegar sauce Bottom: Nissui Corp.’s rice and ginger pork

They are reasonably priced, too. In the face of rising food prices across the board, these frozen meals cost less than ¥500. While frozen food is often bought as a stockpile item, its split-tray meals are often purchased as a meal to eat that day, just like a bento lunch box at a convenience store.

Advances in freezing technology have allowed makers to come up with even more combinations. They have designed the packaging so that steam circulates inside the container, preventing meals from being heated unevenly.

The frozen meal market has grown from ¥1.1 billion in 2017 to ¥6.2 billion in 2022, according to private research firm Intage Inc.

“The main consumers are in their teens and 20s, but I think the frozen meals will be accepted by middle-aged and older consumers who are conscious of nutritional balance,” Intage analyst Toshimitsu Kiji said. “A perception that frozen meals are lazy is fading, and a variety of items have delighted customers and will further boost their demand.”