After several years of restructuring, ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., is just getting started with new growth efforts. And the company's future will involve more frozen new products -- as well as a related acquisition or two.

That's what company CEO Gary Rodkin discussed with the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal and its Smart Money writer Janet Paskin. Following are excerpts from a Sunday, Jan. 31, article.

Q: The economy looks a little brighter these days. What did ConAgra learn from the past 18 months?

A: The real implication for us is a heightened sense of what value means. Everybody is being much more careful about how they spend virtually every dollar. And I believe very strongly that this value mentality may shift a little bit, but it's here to stay. Our basic messages of value, health and wellness, and convenience are long term.

Q: Still, few people seem to associate ConAgra with the brands in its portfolio. Is that a problem?

A: It's a reality. There is no product named ConAgra. So instead, we say, consumers make the brands relevant. We do need investors to better understand this company. But on the consumer side, we really don't think the juice is worth the squeeze.

Q: Is it time to stop calling ConAgra a turnaround?

A: I would like to think that we are now in a different mode - that we are going to prove the benefits of what we've been working on. We've had a few good quarters in a row, and we're going to have more. I don't want to worry about what happened [in the past]. I'd rather look forward.

Q: This is a company thought to be somewhat unloved by Wall Street.

A: Our multiple would suggest that.

Q: What will it take to win over investors?

A: The most important thing is sustainable, profitable growth year after year. Nothing sells better than results.

Q: So how are you going to grow?

A: Convenient meals are a top priority for us. That's where we would look to continue to grow - both in frozen and shelf stable (products that don't need refrigeration). Through our own innovation we've got a very robust pipeline, but that would be a place for a potential tuck-in acquisition.

Q: What's missing?

A: There are different day parts. We're focused a lot on dinner, so being more lunch-, breakfast- or snack-oriented could be possibilities. And on the shelf-stable side, that's wide-open territory. There aren't a lot of . . . shelf-stable convenient meals.

Q: And you're building a plant that makes sweet potato fries.

A: There are plenty of people who don't love the sweet potatoes their grandmother serves at Thanksgiving, but they love sweet potato fries.



In other news, ConAgra began a "Thanks a Million" Banquet frozen food promotion for consumers. The company says more than 16,000 promotional Banquet single-serve dinners will contain redeemable cash prizes ranging in value from $10 to $100,000. The program runs through this April.

The "Thanks a Million" promotion is designed to thank Banquet's loyal customers while also providing a little bit of financial relief," officials say.

"We know that times are tough for a lot of Americans right now, especially when it comes to providing their families with good, quality food without breaking the bank," says Tom McGough, vice president and general manager of Banquet. "Banquet wants to reward our loyal customers and say 'thanks' by giving them a little extra spending money."

ConAgra says 17 different Banquet single-serve dinner meals are included in the promotion, with a "Thanks a Million" announcement on the front package to help consumers identify participating meals. Each package includes instructions on how to redeem any cash prize, which is provided in the form of a check. Non-winning packages include coupons so all consumers receive some form of "thanks" for participating in the promotion. The end-date of the promotion is subject to promotional product availability.

Officials say Banquet is ConAgra Foods' largest brand and includes frozen single-serve and multi-serve dinners, pot pies, and prepared poultry products such as fried chicken, chicken nuggets and wings.