With longer working hours leaving many of us too exhausted to cook, fewer youngsters learning culinary skills and UK consumers developing ever more exotic tastes, the country’s supermarkets and food manufacturers face a constant challenge to offer an ever more enticing choice of convenience meals.

Indeed, the rash of such dishes on the shelves of any major multiple would have been inconceivable a decade ago and, whether or not one believes it is an achievement to celebrate, the UK leads Europe both in the range of dishes on offer and in the sophistication of the packaging used to house them.

This month’s convenience foods feature demonstrates how eye-catching graphics, appetising, full-colour photographs and convenient carry-home pack formats are no longer enough to win our hard cash. Convenience food packaging has to be functional too.

One designer predicts we could soon see special vending machines at shopping centres, bowling alleys or garage forecourts able to create and package an appetising ‘bespoke’ meal from fresh ingredients, on demand, in minutes. Gordon Ramsay watch out!

Indeed ‘active’ food and drink packaging is strongly spotlighted this month, with news that US-based Tempra Technology has developed, and could be close to launching, the world’s first “commercially viable” self-cooling beverage can.

Whether the additional costs of incorporating the special heat exchanger will inhibit large scale adoption remains to be seen, but Tempra’s willingness to persist where other self-cooling proponents have so far failed is admirable, while its can’s ingenious design suggests it has a real chance of success.

On a less positive but equally pertinent note, PIFA chairman Dick Searle used the association’s annual general meeting to blast the excessive regulatory burden on British companies which he believes jeopardises their ability to invest in the people, ideas and research and development they need to be remain truly “world class”.

While not new, Searle’s message was eloquently expressed to a high profile audience and it is to be hoped the politicians, whose “apathy” and lack of understanding of manufacturing’s importance he lambasts, will eventually acknowledge that a purely retail-led economy cannot be good for Britain’s economic prosperity.

Jonathan Baillie