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Squirt your dessert. Food of the '90s: quick, convenient - maybe tasty. FOOD

By Phyllis HanesStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 20, 1988


TODAY'S American supermarkets are loaded with new products for the self-indulgent customer who wants real food, real fast - and at home. ``Indulgence and convenience are the buzzwords today, with microwavable products and precooked foods predominant,'' says Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News. ``Someday soon, food writers may be reviewing supermarket takeout food the way they critique restaurants today.''

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This year's trendy products are dominated by chocolate for flavor and microwave for convenience, while last year's new food products were either smothered in hot Cajun spices or touted as nutritionally oriented specialties.

``There are many new `lite' products, but no new trendy health products that were so popular last year,'' Mr. Friedman continues, speaking about new food products at the supermarket industry's convention in Chicago last month. ``People who are interested in what's new in `nutritionally oriented' products will have to settle for whatever's already on the market.''

Here new products were displayed in more than eight miles of aisles, and 30,000 conventioneers turned McCormick Place into a huge vending and information center while they sampled thousands of products.

Called the convention of the Supermarket Institute, it's the time when the nation's food companies compete in luring grazers and munchers to their booths, turning the enormous exhibition area into one great big eating fest.

BUSINESS goes on, however.

While the health-oriented category is slowing down, foods for gourmets, gourmands, epicures, gluttons, and especially chocolate fanciers are booming:

Sales of precooked poultry are off to such a strong start that the meat could occupy as much as 50 percent of the meat case within five years, industry spokesmen predict.

Finger foods - such as packaged vegetables with dip, single servings of cookies, and pudding or yogurt frozen on a stick - are flourishing.

Singles as well as busy families will enjoy Mrs. Richardson's new Single Sundae-Size Variety Pack, containing six individual servings of the three most popular ice cream toppings - hot fudge, butterscotch caramel fudge, and strawberry. Packets need no refrigeration, are microwavable and disposable.

Microwavable foods are coming in a tidal wave. You've heard all the predictions: By the year 2000 (only 12 years away) not only will microwave ovens be in virtually every kitchen, but many homes will have two or three!

Microwavable French toast, pancakes, and waffles can take credit for firing up the breakfast category. Breakfast favorites, like Aunt Jemima Microwave Pancakes, are showing up in new packages emphasizing microwavability.

Researchers at Campbell Soup predict that mini-microwaves will be in 25 percent of all cars. They will be available in most offices and schools.

Obviously the reason the microwave oven is so successful is that it cooks food more quickly than most other appliances. Today's consumers are on the fastest time track in history.

Even restaurants are fighting for a larger share of the American consum er's food dollar - with products for home use such as Wendy's Hamburgers, Hormel's Chi Chi Salsa, and White Castle Hamburgers.

``Fiber is still high on the list of desirables, especially in bran and oatmeal cereals and bakery products,'' says Friedman. ``Salt is up and down as a promotional advantage.''

Ethnic categories are similar to the health-oriented ones in that the retailers must decide which new products to stock on their crowded shelves.

``Ethnics'' have been relatively quiet lately, according to Friedman's surveys, but he lists new ones such as Cajun Creole, Kraft's Delicioso Pizza Kit, and Lipton's Oriental Teas.