When you think “rice,” you think, Uncle Ben's, says Uncle Ben's promotional literature. But as the Houston, TX-based firm's Web site points out, Uncle Ben's has not only moved well beyond just rice but taken a giant's leap into the convenience category as well.

Uncle Ben's has added noodles, breakfast offerings, chili dishes, pasta, puddings and even a natural rice category to its offerings. Basically, they've developed a menu that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, and snack time, too. What's more, most of these are packaged in extremely convenient, microwave-and-serve, individual serving bowls.

This month, the BEEF Taste Test panel put one of the two beef dishes — Orange Glazed Beef — in Uncle Ben's four-offering line of Noodle Bowls to the test. The frozen, 12-oz., single-serving dish garnered an overall score of 8.7 (on a 10-point scale), which ranks it among the top third of all products we've critiqued thus far in our series.

The offering consists of noodles with orange sesame sauce, vegetables and beef strips. The 98% fat-free dish is available nationwide, needs only six minutes of microwave time and sells for around $3.45.

The product's highest scores came in the convenience category where the panel, made up of BEEF editorial staff and staff from the Minnesota Beef Council, rated it a 4.8 (on a 5-point scale) in ease of preparation, a 4.6 in preparation time and a 4.5 in serving size.

“This is easy, quick and tasty,” said one panelist. Another added: “I really liked it because there are no dishes to worry about. It's perfect for bringing to work for a quick lunch.”

Overall, panelists felt Uncle Ben's really delivered in the convenience area. The only negatives expressed by panelists were that most felt there wasn't enough beef in the package and that the serving size might be too much for some individuals. A pair of panelists found the flavor “too bland,” though the packaging did carry a “mild” label on the front.

On the whole, if this product is representative of its other offerings, Uncle Ben's has the formula for convenience, taste and value in this genre of product. For more on Uncle Ben's, check out the Web site at www.unclebens.com.