As the world starts to heal and reopen, meat and poultry processors need to rethink the products they offer through various foodservice channels, in particular those large dining halls at universities. Don’t expect to see any functioning salad bars or hot buffets this fall. The same for self-serve soup and condiment stations.

There’s no doubt we will be in packaging overload. Smart materials companies are working on more environmentally friendly solutions. Recycled and repurposed packaging will become necessary. Convenience and portability will be paramount.

Now’s the time for processors to get creative with their packaging suppliers. Make the container work for the product.

Expect to see more refrigerated vending, such as that offered by Farmers Fridge. This Chicago-based company has almost 100 locations throughout the Windy City and its suburbs, mainly in hospitals and office buildings, but can also be found in large apartment/condo buildings, with multiple vending machines at O’Hare airport. The company has expanded Midwestern distribution to Milwaukee and Indianapolis, and is now growing on the East Coast, with multiple locations in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York City. The company adapted to stay-at-home orders by delivering directly to homes in select zip codes.

Most of the foods come in recyclable plastic jars. There are chicken breast cubes as a snack, and in grilled and blackened variants. The latter is seasoned with smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, garlic, lemon and salt. Chicken breast is also a layered ingredient in several salads.

Sliced chicken and turkey can be found in the wraps and sandwiches. There’s even a Tuscan rotini bowl meal featuring Italian sausage crumbles.

These are products prepared and packaged at a nearby commissary. All the items are made fresh daily and delivered via temperature-regulated vehicles to the refrigerated vending machines early in the morning. This type of food preparation will be part of the new norm in eating outside the home. Meat and poultry processors can ease the assembly of such packaged meals by offering fully cooked products in varied sizes and flavors. This will allow for easier innovation and keep meat and poultry on the dining hall tray.