Flavorful appetizers build Lamb Weston business.

Lamb Weston busy at both ends

Although the phrase, “burning the candle at both ends” has an unhealthy association,ConAgra Foods’ Lamb Weston frozen potato and appetizer business proves that a food processor can be equally busy at both ends of its business - from agriculture to insights research - while the company prospers.

The past three years have seen this 59-year-old business expand its capacity and strengthen its product supply. During that time, Lamb Weston completed five major transactions (acquisitions and joint ventures) and one 85,000-square-foot plant addition. Last year alone saw three deals including the purchase of Watts Brothers, a diversified Kennewick, Wash., company known for everything from basic farming to frozen vegetables and organic dairy products.

At the other end of the spectrum, Lamb Weston is increasing consumer research investment and channeling those insights to new products.

“For us, innovation has to lead to a sales opportunity or we can’t drive the agenda,” said Lamb Weston President Jeffery DeLapp, in an October 2008 interview withRefrigerated & Frozen Foods. “We’re using consumer insights and showing our customers new and interesting products that help them drive the bottom line.”

Last year saw Lamb Weston extend its sweet potato product line and roll out more appetizers such as Stuffed Spudz, chopped and formed potato bites with on-trend flavor profiles; and World Rings, a line of bold, flavorful breaded onion rings.

Most importantly, Lamb Weston’s strategic moves literally are paying off. According to parent ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., Lamb Weston posted a double-digit net sales increase during its the fiscal year ended May 25, 2008.

“Lamb Weston is our biggest brand,” noted ConAgra CEO Gary Rodkin, in the company’s 2008 annual report. “Lamb Weston led an outstanding year for our Food and Ingredients segment, with segment operating profit increasing 17.7 percent and top-line sales growing 20.7 percent. At roughly one-third of our food-only portfolio’s 2008 sales, the top- and bottom-line impact of this business continues to be important.”

Meanwhile, Lamb Weston officials say their team has come together in the midst of the past few years’ pricing and recessionary pressures.

“… The amplitude and number of inflationary impacts is so big that I don’t think anybody in the food industry has been able to completely accommodate it,” said DeLapp. “You have to look at your business model and say, ‘Do we have the right customer relationships?’ ‘Can we be more strategic with our customers and our input providers?’ In a way, it has helped us redefine our business model. We have become more strategic both at a customer level and the input level, which is a great thing.”

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