The ready-made meal section of the local grocer has never looked better. As more workers return to the office and demand returns for convenient, microwavable meals, dozens of new, restaurant-quality options have entered the market.
From Australia’s first prepackaged omakase meal (Hommakase, featuring thinly sliced seafood, a custom blend of rice and chef-made sauces), to a Taiwanese wagyu beef noodle soup that’s easier to cook than a packet of instant noodles (Ommi’s Food), these are not the lacklustre one-note frozen dinners of the pre-COVID era.
Nor are they the time-consuming meal kits or expensive takeaway options that dominated the market during lockdown, as the hospitality industry innovated to survive prolonged periods of closure.
The relaunch of meal delivery service Providoor illustrates the shift. While it soared during lockdown with intricate meal kits that allowed customers to recreate restaurant meals at home, since October 23 it has introduced a selection of premium frozen meals (such as My Kitchen Rules judge Manu Feildel’s coq au vin) that can be reheated within minutes.
Scott Gooding, nutritionist and co-founder of Brookvale ready-meal company The Good Farm Shop, says the contrast is stark between the microwaveable meals of his childhood and those available today.
“It was a pretty shocking version of a meal in those early days,” he says.
“The big turning point was COVID, when a lot of chefs needed to pay rent and it sparked this outpouring of ingenuity.
“It lifted the bar greatly, and now we’re really experiencing the evolution of the ready-meal, with an increase in quality and options that span the full spectrum.”
The next generation of ready-meal suppliers are offering dishes not easily made at home, or found in Sydney restaurants. Among them are The Good Farm Shop’s comforting dishes such as beef stroganoff, made with organic ingredients sourced from farms adhering to regenerative agricultural principles; Little Jerusalem’s Middle Eastern dishes such as shish barak (meat dumplings cooked in yoghurt sauce); and KeenTown Project, making traditional Brazilian stews for home gatherings.
Major supermarket chains Aldi, Woolworths and Coles each report strong year-on-year growth in the frozen and refrigerated ready-meal market. All have expanded their range of products to accommodate demand.
“Customers want quick and easy ways to eat healthier,” says a spokeswoman for Coles, who attributes the growth to return-to-office mandates and rising cost of living prompting more customers to eat at home.
Hospitality group Three Blue Ducks, which operates five restaurants across NSW and Victoria, jumped on the emerging trend in June and now sells ready meals at select Woolworths Metro stores. Their range of curries replicate dishes found at Three Blue Ducks restaurants, and proved so popular during an in-person giveaway on Monday that more than 470 meals were taken in under an hour.
Smaller, Sydney-based operators feature heavily at independent grocers Goods in Marrickville, and Gong Grocer at World Square (an independent Asian grocer opened by Thai Kee IGA co-owner Linh Trinh Nguyen in September).
Nguyen says customers now expect a variety of ready-made meals within a grocery retailing setting in the same way that they might experience a food court at a shopping centre.
“Offering variety is the key to ensuring customer satisfaction,” she says, noting the independent grocer now stocks more than 50 refrigerated and frozen microwavable meals.
Among them is bestseller Ommi’s Food, a Summer Hill brand which began in a sharehouse during COVID and this year expanded to a 300 square metre commercial kitchen and a takeaway restaurant, awarded Good Food Guide Critic’s Pick award. Owner and chef Omar Hsu, who previously worked at two-hatted restaurant Aria, now sells seven different ranges of microwavable products inspired by the Taiwanese street food of his youth.
“During COVID, home cooks would buy our meals and they had to cook them a little, and could pretend they made it themselves,” Hsu says.
“But now we’ve expanded, and we have a lot more students and office workers coming to us for convenience.
“More people are realising that with better packaging technology, and more chefs in the game, frozen and pre-packaged food can be real food, with an authentic taste.”
Five to try (print)
10 to try (online)
Ommi’s Food, Summer Hill
From $9.95 per single serve
Taiwanese-inspired ready-meals from ex-Aria chef Omar Hsu. From handcrafted dim sum with golden kimchi; to street-style snacks like taro and sweet potato rice balls; to big hot pot kits and all-inclusive bento boxes, Hsu offers a taste of his home country across a wide range of accessible, refrigerated and frozen products.
Delivery available nationwide
From $85 per small serve
A luxury omakase seafood experience, available for the first time at home. ‘Hommakase’ is based on the formal, multi-course Japanese dining experience featuring thinly sliced seafood, a custom blend of rices and chef-made sauces). It features freshly caught seafood, such as Southern Bluefin tuna otoro (marbled belly flesh) sashimi, alongside dry-aged king salmon and lightly charred prawns.
Pick up only.
Little Jerusalem, Auburn
From $12.90 per single serve
Healthy, home-style Middle Eastern food, not often found in restaurants. The menu changes fortnightly, and includes refrigerated dishes such as koussa tomato (stuffed zucchinis in tomato soup) and shish barak (meat-filled dumplings cooked in yoghurt sauce).
Delivery available Sydney-wide.
The Good Farm Shop, Brookvale
From $21 per two-person serve
The convenience of a frozen ready-made meal, without the environmental impact. A range of comforting dishes like steak and kidney pie and beef stroganoff, made with pasture-raised, humanely slaughtered animals and organic produce from regenerative farms.
Delivery available nationwide.
Three Blue Ducks, national
From $14 per single serve
Popular dishes from the Three Blue Ducks restaurants, now available at supermarkets. The range of refrigerated curries come in sustainable packaging and reheat well. Current bestsellers are the chicken tikka masala and Sri Lankan chicken.
Available at select Woolworths Metro and QE Food Stores.
KeenTown Project, Marrickville
From $42 per person (minimum four)
Brazilian ready-made feasts, made and refrigerated for gatherings of family and friends. Husband and wife team Mu and Cris Nascimento (ex-Cornersmith) offer made-to-order feijoada (traditional Brazilian stew) packs (available with black bean and pork or vegan), inclusive of house made snacks, sauces, and sides.
Delivery available Sydney-wide.
Providoor, NSW and VIC
From $10 per single serve entree and $15 per single serve main
Fresh and frozen premium ready-meals from a team of celebrity chefs. Easy to-reheat options such as Manu Fieldel’s coq au vin and and Gary Mehigan’s pumpkin soup (both just requiring seven minutes in hot water).
Fresh, hot meals available for delivery Sydney-wide. Frozen meals available for delivery in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
From $17 per single serve
A range of comforting, microwavable meals that support and empower women who have experienced homelessness and domestic violence. Options include field mushroom, miso and pearl barley soup; Indian potato curry with lime pickle, raita and rice; and this month only, a cucumber, tasoi and soft-boiled egg salad from Kiln chef Mitch Orr.
Delivery available Sydney-wide
Harvest Lane, Warriewood
From $20 per small serve
Family-friendly dishes from a passionate home cook on the Northern Beaches. Expect a wide range of fresh and frozen options like ‘the ultimate lasagne’ and roast chicken enchiladas verde, plus several smaller, kid-friendly options.
Local pickup and delivery available on the North Shore and Northern Beaches
Yulli’s at Home, Surry Hills and Byron Bay
From $18 per two-person serve
Plant-based, refrigerated meals from one of Sydney’s pioneering vegan restaurants. The range is limited, but packed full of nutrition and flavour, with a choice of tofu laksa or eggplant penang curry.
Available for delivery Sydney-wide through Milkrun and for purchase at select independent grocery stores
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