Pre-packaged, processed meals remain a popular choice for many consumers because they reduce the energy, time and cooking skills needed to prepare food, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Results from the study, “Reasons Parents Buy Prepackaged Processed Meals: It Is More Complicated Than ‘I Dont Have Time,’” show that the majority (57%) of parents surveyed identified time savings as a reason for purchasing frozen dinners. Nearly half (49%) of parents reported buying ready meals because their families really liked the meals, one-third chose processed foods because children could help prepare them and more than one-quarter (27%) preferred the cost savings of frozen dinners.

Frozen microwavable foods represent the largest and fastest growing product segment, according to a study produced by Persistence Market Research, New York. And, North America and Europe are the largest market for microwavable foods, the study says, with the Asia-Pacific region expected to be the fastest growing market for microwavable foods.

In its 2017 Global Food and Drink Trends, Chicago-based Mintel predicts that the time investments required for products and meals will become as influential as nutrition or ingredient claims. In another report, Mintel says sales of prepared meals turned slightly positive in 2015 after three consecutive years of declines.

“Watch for the continued development of the ‘blended meal,’” Mintel says in the report. “Consumers are dining at home more, and they value fresh and authentic foods, but convenience remains an important part of the equation. People don’t always source meals entirely at home or away. Look for various components of ‘homemade’ meals to be sourced from items fully or partially prepared.”

For example, Blake’s All Natural Foods, Concord, N.H., added two new all-natural, gluten-free comfort meals to its line of handmade meals.

Meanwhile, retail pizza’s continued move to higher quality and greater variety appears to be helping the overall category increase dollar sales. Mintel says three-quarters of category consumers agree they would spend more on better quality frozen pizza, and more than seven in 10 say they like to try new varieties of frozen pizza.

For instance, CAULIPOWER, Los Angeles, debuted what is said to be the first frozen cauliflower-crust pizza. Inspired by social media-generated recipes for cauliflower-based alternatives, CAULIPOWER is lower in calories, sugar, fat and sodium and higher in protein, fiber and vitamins, while being naturally nutrient-rich and gluten-free.

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