Meat and veg from freezer to the plate

17:00, Jul 09 2010
Erik Arndt
STIRRING IT UP: Aria Farms director and food technologist Erik Arndt cooks up a new beef stir-fry developed with supermarket brand Pams.

Food technologist Erik Arndt admits combining meat and vegetables in a frozen form is "a bit left field".

The director of Waikato-based Aria Farms says he came up with the idea to combine the two food groups as a form of fast food.

The company he runs with his wife Anne celebrates a decade in business this year and the ready-to-cook frozen stir-fry is their latest venture.

They have also introduced a bolognese flavoured mince with tomato and basil.

The couple farmed sheep and beef for 25 years before starting Aria Farms in 2000, when Erik combined his then new vocation as a food technician with his farming experience to come up with beef and lamb "chips".

They came up with the freezer to plate in 10 minutes concept after realising people were buying fast foods because they were too busy or too tired to chop, slice and cook a healthy dinner.

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"Many families now have both parents working," Mr Arndt said.

"They need something quick."

The beef and lamb chip recipe has been tweaked over the last 10 years and a short foray into the British market in 2003 led to a name change from "chips" to "strips".

Mr Arndt said the deal which was supposed to go through with Sainsbury's taught them a few things about the important things in life.

The deal meant they would look to manufacture the strips in Wales and Mr Arndt found himself travelling to Britain and spending hours on the phone organising. He called off the multimillion-dollar deal as constant travel took a toll on family life.

"It came to the point that we would have had to move over there," Mr Arndt said. "It was a decision of where we wanted to live and bring up our children."

So they remained in the Waikato and looked to diversify their range for the New Zealand market.

In line with the couple's belief in the dual importance of nutrition and convenience, the strips contain 97 per cent meat, with added vitamin C to aid iron absorption, calcium to strengthen bones and a seaweed extract to help digestion.

The new products follow the same formula, with the Aria team developing new ways to prevent meat and vegetables "clumping".

The stir-fry vegetables are sourced from Hawke's Bay, frozen and mixed with Aria Farms' meat strips before being packaged and marketed by Foodstuffs in-house brand, Pams.

That had taken a lot of the pressure off developing not just a new product but a new category of convenience food, Mrs Arndt said.

The meat and vege mix was novel but she said because the vegetables were snap-frozen soon after harvest, they retained more nutrients than those sold as "fresh" but then stored in the refrigerator.

"Research on [meat and vegetables] ... frozen at the peak of their goodness shows it stays at that peak," Mrs Arndt said.

To keep the products in prime condition, Aria Farm had upgraded its packaging to an air and water-tight laminate.

Waikato Times