The Stewed brand was conceived in a "stew-reka" moment on the Tube, according to founder Alan Rosenthal, when he realised there was a gap in the market for a product halfway between a soup and a ready meal. He created the recipes in his kitchen at home, but had trouble deciding what to sell them in.
"I looked at various ideas, but didn't want to invest in sealing trays and other paraphernalia," he says. "I opted for tamper-evident transparent pots, as this allowed customers to see the product inside."
The brand is now listed by Ocado and Waitrose and, since 10 February this year, is in 80 Sainsbury's stores. Easy Bean has opted for the pot format in its mission to bring pulses to the British public.
"We don't do pulses well in the UK, but in Africa and South America they are integral to the diet," says managing director Christina Baskerville. She adds that the pack was chosen to differentiate the products from standard ready meals. "People think of ready meals as being bad for you. We wanted to make it very clear these are all natural."
However, a completely new format can have its disadvantages. "It was initially hard to make people understand it was a meal in a pot, rather than, say, a dip, because there was nothing else out there when we launched," she explains.
Easy Bean's range of six one-pot meals launched in late 2007 and includes exotic recipes such as African Palava and Indian Sambar, all based around beans and pulses. The range is stocked in Ocado, selected Waitrose stores and independents.
In September 2008, Innocent became the first big player in the sector with the launch of its Veg Pots. Innocent says the £11.5m first-year sales of the range far exceeded the company's forecast and adds that retail buyers are pleased with the product as it has brought new shoppers into the ready meals category.
"Veg Pots particularly appeal to women aged 25 to 45 and especially those who live and work in cities," says marketing manager Jo Taylor. "Many such people don't eat veg during the day, and this gives them the opportunity to do so."
And while chilled soup brands have been using plastic pots for some time, Heinz has introduced soup in a pot to the ambient sector with its Taste of Home range of single-portion microwaveable soups in hearty varieties such as Lancashire Hot Pot.
Focus On Microwaveable Foods