We've improved 50 of our freshly-prepared dishes in our ready meal range. Product manager Kathryn Saveall writes about them and how we've made the meals taste even better than before.
Some of the traditional meals had become quite complicated when they didn’t need to be. It was about stripping it back to the basics and making these dishes as you'd make them at home.
We wanted to make sure our customers don’t feel guilty when they buy a ready meal because they’re taking a shortcut.
I’ve been at Asda for nearly eight years now and I started working on the project to improve the quality of our traditional and Italian ready meals when I came back from maternity leave this time last year.
As a product manager I look at developing products from concept to launch – including trials, coming up with new ideas, innovation and also running consistency panels to check the quality of our products on a day-to-day basis.
To develop the new ready meals, we worked with our innovation team, suppliers and our head development chef Mark Richmond to create delicious new recipes. But it wasn’t about making them super fancy or creating things that customers wouldn’t recognise, it was about making them the best version of what they could be. We created some signature recipes, like a signature Bolognese or a signature mashed potato, which we could roll out across the whole range to make it more consistent and familiar for customers.
Mark created some initial recipes which we used at the early stages, and then we worked with our suppliers to redevelop the rest of the range. Our suppliers used to use a process called retort – which is basically a heat treatment process to extend the shelf life of products. We've now changed to a completely fresh process to make sure our ready meals are as close to homemade freshness as possible. Our suppliers also make a lot of their own ingredients to go into the product too – like the pasta for our Italian ranges and dumplings and sausages in our more traditional lines.
With our Italian range we’ve made the nutrition better over the years, but we’ve had to find ways of doing that without compromising on the indulgent tastes you expect from Italian food – whether that was making it creamier, cheesier, adding more meat or improving the overall flavour.
Beef lasagne is the biggest seller in the Italian range, and that’s probably because it’s a bit of a pain to make, so it’s nice to buy as a shortcut. Our improved recipe lasagne is my favourite meal in the range – I’m really proud of it and think it’s as good as one you’d get in any restaurant.
Our cottage pie is also really popular for a similar reason I think. If you’re going to make a really good cottage pie, you’ll need some meat left from a roast dinner and have to make your own mash. Our improved freshly-prepared meals are about taking those shortcuts when you need to but not losing out on the flavour – instead of spending hours making it, you’ve got it in five minutes in the microwave or half an hour in the oven.
We’ve also got our spaghetti and meatballs which are really nice – with lovely pork, beef and bacon meatballs that are really flavoursome with a nice tomato sauce. Our improved chicken hotpot is really good, we’ve added things like pearl barley, carrots and swede – it’s a really homely traditional meal and great for those hidden veggies for the kids!
As well as improving the recipes of our existing dishes we've also added four new lines in our traditional range – a delicious chicken in white wine and mushroom sauce, cod mornay, a chicken and stuffing-filled Yorkshire pudding and a toad in the hole meal for two. My favourite is the chicken-filled Yorkshire – a massive Yorkshire pudding with big roast potatoes, chicken and stuffing balls. It’s really tasty!
In our Italian range we're adding the Sloppy Giuseppe Pasta Melt. It’s big enough for the whole family and it’s as tasty as you'd find in restaurants. It's a lovely spicy mince ragu with jalapeños and red peppers and comes in a big pasta bake tray so you can just pop it in the oven, straight on the tray and it’s ready to eat as soon as it comes out.
When we're developing new products for the range it's all about looking at trends and seeing what's out there in restaurants. We know our customers enjoy eating out at the weekends with their family, and they'll try things like a Sloppy Giuseppe then might want to recreate that experience at home.
Try our new and improved range of traditional ready meals in stores and online now, and find our improved Italian range in stores and online from 26th February.