The winter season brings cooler temperatures and shorter days, meaning consumers are starting to look for convenient meals to warm themselves up without spending their entire evenings cooking.

While a lot of consumers will reach for their phones to order delivery from a nearby restaurant, many also know that it is not sustainable to do so every night. For budget-conscious consumers, supermarket deli entrées become the ideal choice for restaurant-quality meals without the added costs of tipping and the extra fees involved when using a mobile delivery service.

The busy consumer also does not always want to wait for their order from a restaurant to be prepared, picked up and delivered after coming home from a long day at work. By purchasing a few “heat & eat” deli entrées along with their regular grocery shopping in advance, the shopper’s dinners are already in their refrigerator — and just a few minutes away from their plate.

Pre-packaged does not have to mean ‘unhealthy’

Along with the busy shoppers who prioritize convenience, there is also a significant group of consumers who care about the nutritional value of their food. Pre-packaged foods are often associated with high levels of sodium and preservatives, which may be a potential deterrent for these health-conscious consumers. 

However, not all pre-packaged meals fit the stereotype of “unhealthy.” Many deli entrée suppliers have developed products that are high in protein, made with natural ingredients and friendly with a variety of lifestyles and diets.

These products are a huge draw for shoppers in between the two groups mentioned above — consumers who prioritize both their meal’s health and convenience factors equally.

Kevin McCray, co-founder and chief operating officer of Stockton, Calif.-based Kevin’s Natural Foods, said that most of the retail customers he talks to are interested in elevating and expanding their ready-to-heat meals in their deli departments. 

“As retailers evolve their post-pandemic self-serve offerings,” McCray said, “there seems to be more space and a higher demand for pre-packaged food that has strong health claims and adventurous flavor profiles.”

Consumers’ winter cravings

At the start of each winter, consumers look forward to enjoying their favorite cold-weather meals again. Some flavor preferences are based on taste alone, and others are based on nostalgia and other associations consumers have with seasonal ingredients. Many consumers are also hoping to try new flavors to add to their lists of staples.

McCray shared which Kevin’s Natural Foods products perform the best during the winter season.

“Naturally, our soup and gravy offerings do very well in the wintertime,” McCray said. “In addition to our typical winter staples — Turkey Gravy and Cauliflower Cheddar Soup — we launched two new soup flavors this year.”

One of Kevin’s new soup flavors is Chicken Queso Soup with Hatch Chilies. It is described by the company as “hearty chunks of chicken breast and hatch chilies simmered in a creamy white cheese soup.”

As for health benefits, this soup is keto-certified and gluten-free with no added sugars. The chicken breast is also raised without antibiotics. Each serving contains 18 grams of protein, making the soup a filling and satisfying entrée.

The second new flavor from Kevin’s is the Thai-Style Coconut Chicken Soup. The company describes this one as “a flavorful coconut curry soup made with coconut milk, bell peppers and Thai spices.”

Like the Chicken Queso Soup, this soup is keto-certified, gluten-free and made with chicken raised without antibiotics, but it is also paleo-certified as well. Each serving contains 13 grams of protein.

“We wanted to get creative with less traditional soups that have unforgettable flavor profiles,” McCray said. “What’s more, we wanted to add more soup options that contained protein and enable customers to build meals using our soups as the centerpiece.”

Kevin’s introduces the world’s first Paleo-Certified pasta entrées

In September, Kevin’s Natural Foods launched a line of paleo-certified pasta entrées, the first of their kind, according to the company.

“This is our biggest health hack yet,” McCray said. “It’s our first ‘complete’ meal. It’s super hearty and meets our strict nutrition standards, tastes delicious and is ready in five minutes.”

The five new Paleo-Certified pasta entrée options are the following:

  • Beef Bolognese: “Hearty pasta entrée made with grass-fed beef, cauliflower pasta, and an unforgettable Italian-style tomato sauce.”
  • Beef Stroganoff: “Tender strips of grass-fed beef and cauliflower pasta in a paleo-friendly Stroganoff sauce made with mushrooms, beef broth, and coconut milk.”
  • Chicken Pasta Primavera: “Refreshing pasta entrée made with tender strips of chicken breast, cauliflower penne pasta, vegetables, and a tomato basil sauce.”
  • Chicken Penne Alla Vodka: “Zesty pasta entrée made with tender strips of chicken breast, cauliflower penne pasta, and a creamy tomato vodka sauce.”
  • Lemon Garlic Chicken Penne: “Bright pasta entrée made with tender strips of chicken breast, cauliflower penne pasta, and a vibrant lemon garlic sauce.”

McCray said the new pasta entrées are currently available in the grab-and-go deli sections at retail stores like HEB, Sprouts, Shaw’s, ShopRite, Tops, Cub and, coming soon, Giant Eagle. He added that there have been more initial re-orders than they expected.