Grainful, an Ithaca, N.Y.-based maker of entrées and side dishes incorporating steel-cut oats, takes a double-barreled approach to providing meal solutions. "At Grainful, we think of meal solutions from two vantage points: culinary inspiration and convenience," explains co-founder Jan Pajerski. "To us, a meal solution is something that makes creating a delicious meal much simpler (worldwide cuisines, ingredients, seasonings and recipes are made accessible); makes cooking a meal much more convenient (cook and prep time are significantly reduced); or, ideally, something that does both."
With these principles firmly in mind, the company is already well prepared for what it sees as the future of meal solutions, and continues to make improvements. "Many of the leaders in the food industry have vowed to clean up their ingredients, as far as eliminating preservatives and artificial colors and flavors," notes co-founder Jeannine Sacco, "but they are a long way from getting those cleaner products into the customers' shopping carts. Many of the companies won't see this happen for another four years. We have already committed to clean ingredients, no preservatives, and are on the path of having our [frozen] entrées be Non-GMO Project verified. We are looking further down the road, beyond Non-GMO, gluten-free and clean ingredients. We encompass those certifications along with food that tastes great and is actually 'good for you.' I think we are going to start seeing a lot of ready-to-eat meals in shelf-stable packaging that contain zero preservatives."
The reason for this, according to Sacco, is that shoppers won’t accept anything less. "Today's consumers, especially the Millennial generation, want to know and understand the food supply chain," she asserts. "I think this is going to put a lot of pressure on manufacturers of foods, who will then put pressure on the farmers."
As far as technology goes, "I believe the next evolution is going to be HPP: high-pressure processing for food products," says Sacco, describing a process most often seen at retail among certain juice products. "HPP is when you process foods under very high pressure in order to preserve and sterilize [them]. It is one of the cleanest ways to preserve food without using any additives or artificial preservatives. Although currently it is an expensive method, I think, in time, food companies will realize it is the way to go. And with all things, as the process becomes more used in the food-processing industry, the lower the costs will be. With steel-cut oats, it would open up doors to new markets that we can penetrate – specifically, hiking, camping and extreme sports – that are looking for hot meals, ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat, that are loaded with protein, flavor and junk-free."
Along with clean ingredients and technological advances, Pajerski predicts: "Trends toward diverse culinary experiences inspired by cuisines from around [the world] will continue. The re-emergence of ancient grains will be driven by new uses for old grains, especially steel-cut oats, which will be used in savory applications beyond breakfast as consumers want to reap the unparalleled nutritional benefits of oats at all times of the day."
Grainful's new Steel Cut Sides product line hasn’t hit retail shelves yet, but it’s already being promoted on the internet.
"On the digital side, we have been running promotions on our online store for the products and have gotten a great response," notes Katie Long, brand manager at the Ithaca, N.Y.-based company. "We normally tie the promotion (coupon code) in with whatever marketing campaign we are running, and we definitely see an uptick in sales. We also have been utilizing online ads (mainly social media and Google Ads) to promote the deal, which is a great way to get the word out about our new line of products and drive sales."