It’s a contrast of dimensional proportions.

In the 1930s, one Hollywood hit with wide appeal starring William Powell and Myrna Loy ironically was named “The Thin Man.” Now, care to guess what nutritional food product has the widest appeal to U.S. consumers? A brand with “lean” in its name.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But, Nielsen sales data show Nestlé Prepared Foods’ Lean Cuisine is the largest nutritional food brand in the grocery store (in dollars) and the second largest “diet” brand overall, second only to Diet Coke.

Moreover, Nielsen data (for 52 weeks ending Aug. 8, 2008) show Lean Cuisine continues to lead the frozen dinner and entrée category’s nutritional segment with 46.5 percent dollar share of market - greater than its next two closest competitors combined. Most important, this $1.2 billion brand has posted two consecutive years of double-digit growth for Nestlé.

What’s the secret? Keeping pace with consumer expectations for nutrition and taste, according to Kristin Gibbs, Lean Cuisine marketing director.

“In recent years, nutritional needs have been evolving,” she says. “Consumers are no longer content to eat something that is simply better for them. It has to taste just as good - if not better - than full-fat versions of the same meal. This is where we have been focusing the majority of our research and development efforts.”

Speaking of R&D, Gibbs credits Nestlé Prepared Foods’ 2006 investment in a new culinary center (shown on the cover) at the company’s Solon, Ohio, campus.

“This has led to breakthrough innovations that are truly delivering exceptional, ‘craveable’ tastes with the nutritional profile that our consumers expect from Lean Cuisine,” says Gibbs. “The Culinary Center has allowed us to stay in front of emerging food trends, as demonstrated by the recent launch of Flatbread Melts, which are in line with popular quick-serve restaurant menu trends. Our recent Seafood Selections launch also delivers the taste and quality of restaurant-style fish with an added nutritional benefit, because these entrees are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA.”

To recap new product news, Lean Cuisine followed its popular Panini launch with four Flatbread Melt varieties in January 2007. While matching restaurant tastes (Chophouse Steak, Pesto Chicken, etc.) each entrée contains 330 calories and no more than 9 grams of fat. More recently, Lean Cuisine recast and strengthened its nine-item seafood entrée line as Seafood Selections. Rolling out to store shelves this fall are new packaging (touting nutritional positives) and four new varieties, including Parmesan Crusted Fish, Shrimp Alfredo, Szechuan Style Stir Fry with Shrimp and Tortilla Crusted Fish.

Similarly, Lean Cuisine emphasized vegetables last year. That’s when the brand introduced five new Spa Cuisine entrees, each with twice the vegetable content of standard offerings.

Recognizing that its consumers demonstrate an active interest in food trends, nutrition and lifestyle, Gibbs says Lean Cuisine relaunched its Web site ( to feature improved meal and fitness planning aids. She says the brand also strengthened ties with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Lean Cuisine donated nearly $1 million during the past year and created “Inspiration Path,” an online chat room for those touched by breast cancer to share messages of encouragement.

Meanwhile, Gibbs says product developers are readying the next crop of on-trend products.

“We expect to continue our successful track record of providing great tasting and nutritious new options to consumers,” she says. “I truly believe Lean Cuisine has the most potential of any brand in the grocery store. Our products and positioning are spot-on with today’s evolving consumer needs.”