Test time for precooked meals in a pouch

Precooked food is no novelty to military personnel or backpackers, but it's now appealing to a new market - single people. If you live in Atlanta; Phoenix, Ariz.; or Seattle, you may have been seeing some strange-looking new packaged foods on market shelves. These are the test market areas for single-portion precooked entrees put up in shiny 5-by-8-inch envelopes called retort pouches.

The food inside needs no refrigeration, can be carried and stored for long periods, and answers the ''chow down'' call after only five minutes in boiling water. The food requires less cooking time, retains nutritional value well, and needs no preservatives. Main dishes sell in test areas for about $2; but prices could be flexible on a proposed wide range of snack-time and side-dish offerings.

Touted as the prepared-food technique of the future, the retort pouch is expected by some to compete aggressively, once it gets started, with frozen foods.

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