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Are American ready meals rebranding from ‘land of the fast food’ to ‘land of the fresh’?

July 3, 2024
Lukas Vanterpool

We think so, and there are a handful of companies championing the change.   

America’s love affair with less-than-healthy, yet oh-so-tasty food is known the world over. New York bagels, Philly Cheese Steaks, Chicago pizza and soul food of the deep south, it seems that every state has a food that it is synonymous with.  

However, what is glaringly obvious is that the food that America has become mouth-wateringly famous for is often highly processed, high fat, high sugar, high salt….low healthy. In fact, data shows that Americans consume 31% more packaged food than fresh food. 

But why? From an agricultural perspective, America is positioned to be able to have it all, not to mention produce an enormous amount, and diverse selection of nutritious, fresh food.   

The retailers know it too – the FMI’s ‘The State of Fresh Food’ report found that 82% of food retailers in the USA are planning to expand their space allocation for freshly prepared, convenient, ‘grab and go’ options. 


Is this a turning point for the American diet? We think so – read on to discover why, and which companies are championing change.  



Agriculturally, America has it all  

According to the National Centers for Environmental Information, there are 9 diverse climate zones across the United States including Hawaii: tropical, sub-tropical, desert, polar/subpolar, mountain, prairie, and temperate/continental.  

The wide range of temperature variations, precipitation, snowfall, and air pressure lend themselves to a huge variety of fresh fruit, pulses, vegetables and commodity crops such as corn, wheat and soybean to be grown, providing the right rangeland conditions for livestock farming, while 95,000 miles of coastline also means aquaculture is plentiful. 

Washington alone, with its perfect climate, abundant water and volcanic soil means long growing seasons. 20% of all potatoes consumed across the USA are grown in Washington alone. 

Apples, oranges, grapefruits, cherries, cranberries, peaches, blueberries, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, lettuce carrots, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, squash, rice, peanuts, oats, dry beans, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas are just a snapshot of non-commodity produce grown across the states – this doesn’t include the varieties of each produce….in short, America is RICH in nutritionally dense fruit, vegetables and legumes.  

Of course, we couldn’t forget corn – it’s 2022 after all, and thanks to Tariq, corn just became a BIG hit. And why shouldn’t it, it’s a ‘beautiful thing’. 





Ready to eat and ready to heat have a poor reputation – that’s changing (thanks to the brands below)  

An 18-year study in America by the CDC found that the consumption of ultra-processed food rose from 53% of total calories in 2011 to 57% by 2018. Not a shocking figure by any means, but a clear indication of a slow and steady shift in diet as people aged through the study. 

While it’s well known that soda, salty snacks, breakfast cereal, pizza and fast food are ultra-processed foods responsible for nutritionally deficit calorie intake – consumption increased with those who ate a high number of ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat meals.  

These meals have often slipped under the radar and nutritional value going unnoticed by the consumers – but not by those in the industry – or in the know.  

Data shows that the American Ready Meals Market is projected to rocket. A trends forecast released in 2020 predicted that it was sent to rise by almost 4% between 2020-2025, citing factors such as the growth of fast-paced lifestyles behind the growth. 

However, consumers aren’t looking for the highly processed, high salt, high sugar ready meals of yesterday. There is a growing demand for convenient meals that offer nutritional value – that are healthy, functional and ‘safe’ to eat, and there are a core number of progressive firms who are experts in the abundance of homegrown fresh fruit and veg meeting this demand.  



The brands changing the ready meal game   


Freshly closing on a $200 million capital raise, FreshRealm has made a name for itself as a leading and progressive provider of ready-to-cook and ready-to-heat meals, as well as meal kits.  

Founded in 2013, that means they were way ahead of the trend of fresh, clean food – FreshRealm has focused on consumers shopping in retail stores, acting on the ethos that meals should be fresh and nourishing, and best eaten with family to ‘foster the ritual of mealtime’. And why not? Nicole Desir, EVP, brand and communications, summed it up perfectly when she said,  

“Gathering around the table over delicious food is an experience for the every day, not to be reserved for special occasions.” 

A previous funding round closed after $32 million was raised. Capital raised is reinvested back into the business, enabling FreshRealm to scale up and extend its fresh, healthy and convenient product range.  




Family favourite the world over, HelloFresh, sits firmly in the ‘meal kit’ arena rather than ‘ready meal’, but they ARE strong advocates for fresh, healthy, seasonal produce and combating food insecurity– and well-deserving of a mention.  

HelloFresh stand for budget, freshness, taste and sustainability, and aim to provide households with wholesome meals that can be made at home with carefully sourced ingredients, little waste, lots of recyclable packaging and Co2 neutral delivery.  

But that’s not all – HelloFresh donated 500K pounds of food (worth $2.5 million) in September 2021 through its ‘Beyond the Box’ initiative, to food banks, food rescue organizations and other non-profits that work to address food insecurity.  

HelloFresh also provides customers with the opportunity to gift meal kits to those in need as a core part of the subscription service – meaning its social action can take place all year round.  



Daily Harvest  

‘Chef-crafted food built on sustainability sourced fruits + veggies delivered straight to you’ – never has a statement appealed more to a generation of environmentally aware, health-conscious -yet time-strapped individuals. 

Daily Harvest is on a mission to deliver plant-based, ‘actually healthy’ nourishing meals that are designed to meet the needs of its audience and are ready in minutes – using ingredients that are 95% organic. 

After starting as a delivery service for frozen smoothies, Daily Harvest expanded and now offers breakfasts, lunches, snacks, dinners AND desserts – the business was founded by Rachel Drori who wanted to eat clean but didn’t have time for planning & prepping, and used her own method of bagging and freezing fruits and veggies for the week’s smoothies as the catapult for her business – and never looked back.  

Daily Harvest is unwilling to compromise on the freshness of ingredients, wanting them picked and frozen at peak ripeness, so focused on building strong relationships directly with farmers and suppliers.  




Founded in 2013 by Ash and Shiri Cheriyan, Thistle began life with the vision of ‘ensuring access to a safe and abundant food supply composed of real, whole foods that both improve human health and reduce our environmental footprint.’ 

Health and environmental sustainability are at the core of everything Thistle does. The meals they provide are only plant-based because this is crucial to lowering your environmental impact.  The website features compelling data on the global impact of animal agriculture, taking so much from the earth to provide so little in return. 

Thistle also only partners with local farmers and artisanal producers that employ sustainable, regenerative practices and they purchase products from organic certified farms where possible.  

Menus are rotated to ensure seasonal fruits and vegetables are used to take advantage of local harvests, rather than source ingredients from afar and compromise company values.  

Community Partners – another way Thistle brings their vision to life. Over 10,000 meals have been delivered to their community partners that include Project open hand, whose vision is to provide nutritious meals to ill or vulnerable communities in Oakland and San Francisco. 



There is plenty to be excited about when it comes to the heat-to-eat and meal kit sector. A space set to achieve rapid growth – they could be changing the face, perception, and understanding of American food and fresh ingredients -for good.  

We couldn’t finish this without a plug, could we? As with all businesses, in order to continue to drive forward to need the right mix of people – and WE are the people to find YOUR people. Our team hit the mark every time, with over 100+ of combined experience, recruiting talent for world-leading fresh food manufacturers – we understand their needs as well as the behaviours and values of candidates that make an impact.  

To learn more about how we can help your business, get in touch with the team today.  



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About The Author

Lukas Vanterpool

I started The Sterling Choice with Gareth Whyatt back in August 2013. We’ve always remained true to ourselves and what it is we’re trying to achieve – A great company with great people and great results! This journey never stops, we are always finding ways to support our colleagues and make sure they leave every day feeling fulfilled.

Over the years I’ve always been asked “what’s your USP??, what makes you different from all the other agencies??”. That’s an easy one for me to answer – “Our culture makes our business and our people make our culture”

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