a person holding a phoneSuffice it to say, this year has forced us all to be a little bit more conscientious when it comes to feeding ourselves and our families. Part of our arsenal, perhaps surprisingly, has been a well-stocked pantry. Even affluent households, given product shortages, experienced a kind of food insecurity – many for the first time. Shelf-stable pantry items came to the rescue for many a dinner as Americans began exchanging their recipestips, and tricks for using canned and dried goods in tasty and novel ways.

Very stable (canned) genius

Of course, pantry goods have always been a reliable standby – canned goods in the U.S. alone were estimated to make up a $19 billion market segment as of 2018. Between 2017 and 2019, shelf-stable plant based milk and shelf-stable dry beans, grains, and rice were among the categories with the highest market share growth of the specialty food market.

And since the pandemic hit, the effect has been dramatic. Even weeks before governments began announcing stay-at-home orders, all sorts of non-perishable goods (especially beans and chickpeas) saw year-over-year growth as Americans began stocking up. And by mid-April, shelf-stable fruits and vegetables were fast-growing categories, at 17% and 32%, respectively.

So, as Americans continue to bank on hardy, shelf-stable products, it might just be the perfect time for new and exciting non-perishable foods made by inventive, forward-thinking young companies, to enter the limelight.

A new kind of base ingredient

a pile of fries: Healthy frozen dinners might once have been a contradiction in terms, but that’s so last century. Whether you’re limiting meat, fat and carbs, or maximizing your intake of healthy fiber and nutrients, there are now plenty of convenient, inexpensive options filling the freezer cases of the nation’s supermarkets. Interesting ingredient options are increasingly available, too, from popular superfoods to new takes on old standbys like cauliflower. All the choices compiled here are under $5 per package and a healthy option when you’re looking to start cooking. Click through to see how buying frozen foods can inspire healthy eating and save you money. Last updated: April 9, 2019

Shelf-stable milk alternatives, both plant-based and otherwise, are nothing new – canned, powdered, and boxed options have been around for ages. But a newcomer to the market, JOI has introduced a new kind of product that’s shelf-stable, space-saving, and cost effective. It’s called a “nutbase” or “plant base,” because it can be made into nut milk as well as smoothies, ice cream, creamy sauces and dips, and so on. JOI stands for “just one ingredient,” because it is: just blanched almonds or cashews.

For those who grew up making cheese-sauce slathered memories with Velveeta and jarred queso, a new brand called LOCA has debuted the cheese sauce of the 21st century – in that it’s totally plant-based. The sauce is shelf-stable like the jarred stuff you already know, but made of, primarily, potatoes, making it a more nutritious and environmentally friendly alternative to the highly processed dairy product. And unlike most vegan cheeses, it’s not made from nuts, making LOCA safe for those with nut allergies.

Now that things have begun to even out a little, with regard to the way we get our food, access to fresh food isn’t as much of a crisis as it was in March. But people can still benefit from the conveniences offered by pantry foods – and there’s no guarantee that we’ll never experience shortages again. Down to Cook is a new brand making it even easier to prepare healthy, plant-based food without needing the full bounty of the farmer’s market. In fact, if you have a vegetable, you can make a full meal by combining it with Down to Cook, a shelf-stable pea protein crumble, to make burger patties, taco filling, bolognese sauce, or whatever else you can think of.

And it’s not a strictly American phenomenon by any means. Across the pond, a brand called fiid offers plant based, full and nutritious meals like Moroccan chickpea tagine and Italian sundried tomato and lentil ragu – all of which are shelf-stable. The brand’s initial concept was as a refrigerated line of products, but it was only once they pivoted to shelf-stable that the line really took off. Now, the products are available for retail and online sales throughout Ireland and the UK. Shelf-stable foods are also proving to be extremely useful for busy consumers in India and the UAE, as well. One brand in particular, BROTOS, was developed specifically to get healthy, plant-based food into the mouths of time- and cash-strapped students and professionals. BROTOS themselves are simply pulse sprouts, dehydrated and ready to be made in an instant. Even more parts of the world are developing an interest in this kind of convenient but nutritious food, it seems: BROTOS has already begun exporting to several countries in Africa and south Asia.

Innovative plant-based products like these have made living amidst the coronavirus a little bit easier for some of us, and will continue to as long as consumers have use for their convenience, reliability, and sustenance. It’s no longer necessary to have a fridge full of fresh meats, cheeses, or even just a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables, in order to make a delicious and satisfying family meal. The magic ingredients are just a few things from the pantry.