Convenience food, or tertiary processed food, is commercially prepared food designed for ease of consumption. Products designated as convenience foods are often preprepared food stuffs that can be sold as hot, ready-to-eat dishes; as room temperature, shelf-stable products; or as refrigerated or frozen products that require minimal preparation, typically just heating, by the consumer.
These products often are sold in portion controlled, single serve packaging designed for portability for "on-the-go" or later eating. Convenience food can include products such as candy; beverages such as soft drinks, juices and milk; fast food; nuts, fruits and vegetables in fresh or preserved states; processed meats and cheeses; and canned products such as soups and pasta dishes.
Critics have derided the increasing trend of convenience foods because of numerous issues. Several groups have cited the environmental harm of single serve packaging due to the increased usage of plastics that contributes to solid waste in landfills. Health organizations have spoken out about the high levels of salts, fats and preservatives in these products which critics claim are a contributing factor of the obesity epidemic in western nations.
On deprived housing estates on the edge of many British towns, local independent grocers may offer much in the way of convenience food but little fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh food may not sell well and so spoils before sale, eroding local shop profit margins, which may be small anyway due to low levels of trade. Also small local independent shops often face higher per-item wholesale prices for small orders of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is one type of 'food desert' and may be due to lack of local spending power or lack of knowledge about how to prepare and cook healthy foods such as fresh vegetables.