Cooking shortcuts long have been an American way of life, of course. But demand has grown for time-saving recipes as busy Americans eat more meals at home to save money. The NPD Group estimates the average number of meals eaten at home at 902 last year, up from 870 four years earlier.
At the same time, there’s a growing “foodie culture” that values authenticity and fresh ingredients. It may be why sales of Rice-A-Roni — essentially a box of rice and powdered seasoning mix — have dropped 16 percent to $196 million from five years ago, according to the market researcher Euromonitor International.
The companies that make the new starters say it’s too early to make sales projections but the hope is to appeal to the people who want it both ways: a home-cooked meal that doesn’t require much sweat and labor. In particular, companies are aiming for those in their 20s and 30s whose cooking skills may be outmatched by their increasingly sophisticated tastes.
“Their definition of cooking is different,” says Darren Serrao, who heads innovation for Campbell Soup, based in Camden, N.J. “Assembly is cooking.”
Indeed, Kraft Sizzling Salads dinner kits aren’t exactly your mother’s “made from scratch” recipes.
They direct people to heat up some chicken with the marinade and toss a salad with the dressing. But in case aspiring home cooks need some extra guidance in their culinary adventures, Kraft provides cooking tutorials online.
In a video for the Chicken Caesar meal kit, a woman demonstrates how to squeeze the marinade over four chicken breasts in a frying pan. She then guides viewers through the steps of adding croutons and shredded cheese into a bowl of chopped lettuce. The finishing touch? Squirting in some Kraft dressing.
Progresso’s sauces involve a little more work. For example, let’s say you want beef stroganoff. All you need is two pounds of boneless beef sirloin, an onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and a can of Progresso’s Recipe Starters in Creamy Portabella Mushroom flavor. The dish takes 35 minutes from start to finish, according to the recipe on the can.