One company based in a small region of northern Spain, can trace its roots back to 1875. Today, the brand Carretilla is still a household name for Spaniards, famous for cans and jars of asparagus, peppers and olives. Producer IAN Grupo Alimentario, though, doesn’t sit back on its laurels. Wanting to target new markets, it decided to develop a range of pre-prepared dishes under the EUREKA project HP Ready Meals.
“The pace of life today means we don’t have as much time to cook,” said project leader Francisco Salcedo, head of research and development at IAN. “We wanted to produce a range of balanced, traditional meals that would keep for 45 days in the fridge.”
It came up with a menu of grilled meats with accompanying vegetables and sometimes a sauce. The technical challenge lay in ensuring they were safe to eat after weeks in the fridge. IAN wanted the beef barbecued on the outside but succulent on the inside.
The food technicians experimented with different dishes. Using specialised machinery, they exposed the meat and vegetables to high pressures to reduce the micro-organisms that can turn food bad but ensured the nutritional value of the products was maintained.
Through painstaking tests during the project’s 20 months, the partners identified the pressures needed for different dishes and measured their shelf-lives. They managed to come up with combinations that lasted 30 days.
“HAVING A PARTNER AND WORKING WITH EUREKA ALLOWED US TO TACKLE AMBITIOUS GOALS.”
The tough food science cracked, they hit another obstacle - sometimes the meat juices seeped onto potatoes or other vegetables, discolouring them. “It didn’t affect the food’s safety but the dishes weren’t attractive visually,” said Salcedo. The solution was to change the packaging for the ready-meals to create compartments.
Last year, IAN began selling to consumers and were delighted with their reaction. IAN sells chicken with a mushroom sauce, chicken and red pepper hotpot and garlic chicken with roast potatoes.
Salcedo says the firm hopes to launch other dishes in the future like pork with peppers or beef with potatoes but cash-strapped consumers prefer cheaper, chicken-based dishes at the moment.
Even the first year-and-a-half of sales proves IAN’s research was worth the effort. It has sold €800,000 worth of meals, more than half the sum invested in the project. “We’ve always been committed to research but having a partner and working with EUREKA allowed us to tackle ambitious goals,” said Salcedo.
The project was a top three finalist in EUREKA’s best R&D awards in the food category. IAN’s innovation has given it a cutting edge in a changing society. It can look forward to tapping growing demand at home and abroad.