Quick Recipes and Easy

Food That Cooks Itself

Eating in the car has become nearly a necessity for our quick-paced modern lifestyle. It’s not surprising that food manufacturers have picked up on this fact. Now, if you don’t have time to stop for a French Vanilla Latte, just take along a can that heats itself.

Wolfgang Puck, the celebrity chef, has introduced a new line of lattes with a twist. Push a plastic button on the bottom of the can and the coffee warms up to a tasty 145 degrees.

OnTech, the California company that manufactures the cans, calls it “Packaging of the Future.” OnTech is the first company in North America to manufacture the self-heating cans. The Wolfgang Puck line of lattes is the earliest product to hit the market in these innovative containers.

As the trend towards convenience and portability in food products increases, industry experts predict the appearance of more foods in self-heating cans. Expect to see coffee, tea, soups, cocoa, baby formula and even alcoholic beverages.

The technology, while seemingly simple, really took OnTech seven years and $24 million to develop. After activating a button, water is released into the can’s inner cone, which contains the mineral calcium oxide or ‘quicklime.’ The resulting chemical reaction heats the coffee, or other liquid, in about 6 to 8 minutes.

According to Jonathan Weisz, OnTech chief executive, “There is no preparation, mixing or clean up. Consumers merely press a button, wait a few minutes for the product to heat, open the container and delight in.”

Consumers will undoubtedly warm to the thought. If you’re running late for work, just heat your oatmeal and coffee in the car. Weisz predicts, “This is going to be a huge, huge part of society in the United States. In two years everyone will be drinking from self-heating containers.”

OnTech plans to market its own brand, Hillside Coffee, later this year on QVC. The introduction of hot chocolate will follow shortly after.

Similar products in other countries have met with limited success. A few years ago Nestlé launched a self-heating canned coffee in Europe. The can suffered problems heating and sales were less than impressive. The product was subsequently discontinued. Self-heating bowls of ramen noodles are currently available in Japan.

The potential market for similar items in this country is apparent from the success of convenience products like Campbell’s Soup at Hand, which requires heating in a microwave. Now imagine the same soup heating itself, no microwave needed.

Just how much extra consumers are willing to pay for the new packaging remains to be seen. But there’s always a market for convenience, even at a premium. The other hurdle will be educating the public on how to use the new-fangled cans.

According to demographics expects, the time Americans spend in their cars is at an all time high. Food manufacturers already tailor on-the-go snacks and breakfast cereals to fit into car cup holders. Hot soups and oatmeal can’t be far behind.

I have a hunch we’ll wonder how we ever lived without self-heating cans. Like pop-tops, tea bags and instant coffee.

Blair Dalton is a former technical writer turned freelancer. Her work has appeared in national magazines, and she writes a column on technology for a newspaper in St. Louis, MO. Ms. Dalton also edits Home Improvement Niche, a website on home improvement advice and news, at homeimprovementniche.com homeimprovementniche.com

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