Birds Eye is hoping to emulate the success of fresh Italian pasta meals down the frozen aisle with a new range of microwaveable dishes that it claims are healthier than their fresh counterparts.

The pouches, which hit shelves next month, will be available in three variants: cheese ravioli in tomato & basil sauce; ham & cheese tortellini; and cheese tortellini (all rsp: £1.69).

Each meal, which contains at least one RDA portion of vegetables and less than 410 calories, takes eight minutes to steam-heat from frozen and is packaged in an innovative microwave-friendly plastic bag Birds Eye designed specifically for the launch.

The frozen manufacturer said Birds Eye Pasta Meals would appeal to consumers who were after the sort of quality filled fresh pasta offered but with the "added convenience and healthiness" frozen provided.

Birds Eye brand manager Penny Vaughan said that such innovation was long overdue in the frozen Italian ready meal market.

"Italian is the second-most popular style of in-home cuisine but is an area that, in the frozen market, is lacking in innovation and development of different formats," she said.

"This is the first time that a frozen pasta meal in the steam bag format has been created, meaning it is specially designed for microwave cooking and the taste and texture of the pasta are not compromised in any way."

Consumer enthusiasm for Italian food had helped Birds Eye's existing range of pasta-based frozen meals, which includes lasagne and spaghetti bolognese, record sales growth of 24% to £5m over the past year [Nielsen]. Vaughan said she expected the new format to achieve a similar level of success.

"At a time when both Italian food and frozen ready meals are so popular with consumers, this seemed the ideal time to bring a new and innovative product to shelves."

Vaughan added that the range's packaging had been given "a Mediterranean feel with strong colouring" to stand out in the congested freezer aisle. The range has already secured listings with two of the big four supermarkets.