E-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is looking at using refrigeration technology developed by the U.S. military for its push into the prepared meals marketplace. While the leading online retailer hasn’t made its aspirations in prepared meals official, it has filed for a trademark in the area, and 915 Labs, a Denver startup that is advancing the refrigeration technology, told Reuters Amazon has talked about selling ready-to-eat meals as early as 2018.

The food preparation technology, known as microwave-assisted thermal sterilization (MATS), enables the meals to maintain their flavors and texture by placing the sealed food packages in pressurized water and using microwaves for several minutes to heat them up, reported Reuters. What’s more, the startup said that thanks to the technology, the meals can be housed on the shelf of a warehouse for as long as a year. The meals that 915 Labs described to Reuters include beef stew and a vegetable frittata that don’t require refrigeration, which means they can be easy for Amazon to ship. If the retailer adopts the technology and rolls it out on a mass scale, it will give consumers another reason to purchases their groceries online—something that is slowing growing in popularity. (See also: Amazon Sets Its Sights on the U.S. Ticketing Market.)

A New Big Blue?

Amazon's push to get into prepared meals market comes at time when businesses delivering ready-made meals and food kits that provide all the ingredients, like Blue Apron, are gaining in popularity, with big growth expected in the coming years. According to market research firm Packaged Facts, U.S. meal kit delivery services likely generated around $1.5 billion in sales last year and are expected to grow into a multi-billion industry during the next five years. “These days, consumers have access to almost everything without leaving their home and—through the power of smartphones—without even speaking to another human being. Rather than worrying whether meal kit delivery services will cut into their business, some grocers and food marketers are taking the bull by the horns and starting their own such services,” said David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts, in the forecast report last spring. (See also: Can Amazon Make a Meal of Blue Apron?)

In July, Amazon made its plans a little clearer when TheStreet.com spotted a trademark application that showed its Amazon Technologies unit is gearing up to create and sell prepackaged food kits. In the application, the unit described its efforts as “prepared food kits composed of meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fruit and/or and [sic] vegetables ... ready for cooking and assembly as a meal.” The tagline of the offering according to TheStreet.com: "We do the prep. You be the chef."


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