Under control. Out of control. There’s a big difference. Twitter tells us that 2010’s top news stories were BP’s oil spill in the Gulf, the earthquake in Haiti and flooding in Pakistan. Each event or accident was seemingly larger-than-life, uncontrollable and/or unavoidable.

Food processors faced similar unavoidable issues in their world. A weak economy. Higher cost-of-living expenses. These lingering conditions had consumers dining in more often and eyeing private label options as well. Behind the scenes, food processors also faced higher energy and raw input costs.

There’s no denying that these factors depressed category leaders’ domestic results in each of six major refrigerated and frozen food sectors. Even so, a detailed look reveals that industry leaders excelled across several areas that were under their control. Case in point: ConAgra Foods’ Lamb Weston business opened the frozen food industry’s first LEED Platinum certified plant. Elsewhere, Nestle Prepared Foods integrated its frozen pizza business and launched an award-winning new entrée line. General Mills and Tyson Foods posted strong earnings performance and dairy giant Dean Foods pushed improvements in operations, sustainability and its product mix.

Read on in R&FF’s 14th annual “Top 150 Food Processors” for more about these developments and a review of “who’s who” in each category.
About This Report
Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 14th annual industry leaders report profiles the top 25 processors in each of six refrigerated and frozen food sectors. Processors are ranked by annual net sales and listings represent R&FF’s best efforts to reflect pertinent sales from all channels. Sales figures and estimates are based on company reports, news releases, market analysts’ reports, industry media and other sources. Figures exclude shelf-stable products.


Meals & Entrees
Includes refrigerated and frozen breakfasts and breakfast entrees, hand-held entrees and sandwiches, bagged meal kits, pizza, plated dinner meals and entrees, pot pies, meatless entrees, prepared seafood entrees and pasta.

Snacks, Appetizers & Side Dishes
Includes refrigerated and frozen prepared snacks, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, soups, side dishes, deli-style salads, potato products, prepared gelatins, puddings and soft pretzels.

Meat & Poultry
Includes fresh and processed beef, poultry, pork and lamb.

Includes refrigerated and frozen breads, rolls, bagels, biscuits, cakes, pies, Danish, cookies and other products. Available in dough, par-baked and fully baked forms.

Includes milk, butter, cultured products, ice cream, novelties, natural and processed cheese, dairy-based spreads and toppings.

Fruits & Vegetables
Includes refrigerated and frozen processed fruit, vegetables and prepared, fresh-cut salads.

Editor’s notes:
Research support for R&FF’s annual Top 150 came in part from sister BNP Media publications, including National Provisioner, Dairy Foods and Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods also wishes to thank SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market researcher.

Questions, comments or clarifications? We value your interest and insights. Please contact Editor Bob Garrison at garrisonr@bnpmedia.com or (574) 935-3724.

Meals & Entrees: Tale of two seasons

You’ve heard of Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” Here’s a tale of two seasons.

Nestlé USA embarked on a season of integration following its March 2010 purchase of Kraft Foods’ frozen pizza business. Although officials quickly established a strong leadership team for a newly created Nestlé Pizza business in Chicago, there was still a year’s worth of synchronization involving everything from purchasing and packaging to operations and supply chain.

Even so, the business performed well according to global parent Nestlé SA, which recently reported fiscal 2010 results. Commenting on its Zone Americas group, officials noted, “There was a positive performance from our frozen pizza business in the first year of ownership, with market share gains for DiGiorno. The integration process is on track.”

Nestlé noted, meanwhile, that frozen prepared meals, particularly Lean Cuisine entrees, “continued to suffer from weak consumer demand for the category.”

Not surprisingly, it’s been a season of introductions at Nestlé Prepared Foods. Not only has the Solon, Ohio, company launched several new product lines but the business itself introduced Frank Higgins this January as its president and chief executive officer.

A 27-year company veteran, Higgins has held executive posts throughout Nestlé USA. Most recently, he was president of Nestlé’s Walmart Team.

“I’m proud to join Nestlé Prepared Foods,” he says. “It has great brands though our goal is not just about growing this business. Instead, we’re committed to growth through true leadership across the refrigerated and frozen food categories. It’s all about delighting the consumer and improving our consumers’ lives by providing delicious, convenient and nutritious meals and snacks.”

To its credit, Nestlé Prepared Foods appears to be doing just that – pleasing consumers. Two of its latest new offerings – Lean Cuisine Market Creations (bagged, steamable entrees) and Buitoni Riserva Frozen Complete Meals for Two – earned Product of the Year USA honors this February from Product of Year USA and consumer market researcher TNS US. TNS said it asked 60,000 consumer shoppers to vote for the nation's most innovative products in 22 categories. Lean Cuisine won top honors in the frozen food category while Buitoni won the specialty foods segment.

Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) also recognized Lean Cuisine Market Creations as last year’s top “healthier meals” offering, according to BHG’s “Best New Product Award” contest, co-sponsored by BrandSpark International.

Nestlé Prepared Foods has been equally busy supporting its Stouffer’s brand. During the past six months alone, it has rolled out a new line of Stouffer’s Corner Bistro Stuffed Melts and Soups – followed this January by Stouffer’s Farmers’ Harvest, a 10-item line of single-serve and multi-serve (family) entrees with added whole grains and vegetables. Elsewhere, one of Nestlé Pizza’s more popular new offerings has been three new DiGiorno Pizza & Breadsticks offerings, featuring a full-size, hand-tossed-style pizza, eight breadsticks and marinara dipping sauce.

Says the company, “DiGiorno Pizza & Breadsticks lets consumers eat it their way, with the option to enjoy the breadsticks first while the pizza finishes cooking or eat them together.”

New Product Profile

New steam entrée product, package earns consumer praise, awards.

For The Record

Feb. ’11 – Lean Cuisine Market Creations and Buitoni Riserva Frozen Complete Meals for Two earn “2011 Product of the Year USA Awards” from Product of Year USA and consumer market researcher TNS US. Lean Cuisine Market Creations wins Better Homes and Gardens’ Best New Product Award (healthier meals).

Jan. ’11 – Nestlé USA names Frank Higgins (above) president and CEO at Nestlé Prepared Foods.

Sept. ’10 – Global parent Nestlé SA names Chris Johnson executive vice president in charge of Nestlé Zone Americas, effective January 1, 2011.

SNACKS, APPETIZERS & SIDE DISHES: Sweet (potato) growth strategy

When the going gets tough … the tough get better. Despite continued weakness in the foodservice market – and even a poor potato crop – Lamb Weston pressed ahead last year with creative new products and processing improvements aimed at a better environment (and a better bottom line)

For the record, parent ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., reported that its Commercial Foods segment (which includes Lamb Weston) registered an 8 percent sales drop with a 0.7 percent decline in operating profits during  fiscal 2010, ended last May 30.

That said, Lamb Weston (with offices in Eagle, Idaho, and Tri-Cities, Wash.) continued to press ahead with ambitious new product and operations programs. In fact, last fall saw both efforts come together when the company opened a $150 million sweet potato processing facility in Delhi, La.

Lamb Weston says the operation will produce a broad range of foodservice and retail sweet potato products under two respective brands: Sweet Things and Alexia. Officials say sweet potatoes deliver many “better-for-you” benefits popular with consumers. Lamb Weston also has begun working with celebrity Chef Tyler Florence to promote Alexia’s all-natural and organic retail products for at-home dining occasions.

Last but not least, the company continues to invest in more new products. For example, to help restaurant operators capitalize on craft beer’s popularity, Lamb Weston recently introduced Tavern Traditions, a new line of battered onion rings and cheese sticks made with hand-crafted beer as an ingredient.

Officials also can raise a glass to Delhi, which they say is the world’s first frozen food plant to earn LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“The Delhi plant is the culmination of our decade-long experience with sweet potato processing technologies and product innovation,” said Mark Hayden, Lamb Weston’s senior vice president of sales.

This February saw Lamb Weston earn still more national recognition for its green efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented 2010 ENERGY STAR certifications to Lamb Weston’s Richland, Wash., potato plant as well as a Park Rapids, Minn., facility that is a joint venture between Lamb Weston and RDO Frozen Foods.

The EPA awards the ENERGY STAR to plants achieving best-in-class performance, based on its EPA’s Energy Performance Indicator (EPI). Both facilities scored in the top 25 percent within the frozen potato processing industry.

Lamb Weston’s Park Rapids facility also won a ConAgra Foods 2010 Sustainability Award in the “Climate Change & Energy Efficiency” category award. Officials noted that the operation’s focused energy efficiency program reduced natural gas use and improved employee safety.

Lamb Weston’s Quincy, Wash., plant won ConAgra Foods’ 2010 Sustainable Development Award in the “Sustainability in Marketing & Sales” category. Here, officials commended Quincy for its work with EPA to develop the ENERGY STAR assessment tool. They noted that this tool is the first of its kind to assess energy use in frozen potato processing operations.

New Product Profile

New Tavern Traditions line taps into craft beer popularity.

For The Record

Feb. ’11 – EPA presents 2010 ENERGY STAR awards to Lamb Weston’s Richland, Wash., plant and a Park Rapids, Minn., plant owned by ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston and RDO Frozen Foods.

Nov. ’10 – Louisiana state officials join ceremonies to open ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston’s sweet potato plant in Delhi, La. (photo above)

April ’10 – Parent ConAgra Foods presents 2010 Sustainable Development Awards to Lamb Weston/RDO Frozen Foods (Park Rapids, Minn.), and to Lamb Weston’s Quincy, Wash., plant.


It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Meat and poultry processing giant Tyson Foods Inc. entered 2010 on a high note. It had just completed a nine-month executive search and named a new leader, Donnie Smith, as president & CEO. One year later, however, this Springdale, Ark.-based company would mourn the loss of another leader, Tyson’s charismatic former Chairman Donald Tyson.

Don Tyson, 80, passed away January 6, 2011, after a brief illness. He was the son of Tyson Foods’ founder John W. Tyson, and father of current company Chairman John H. Tyson. Having come up through the business with his father (first known as Tyson Feed and Hatchery ) Don Tyson later led Tyson Foods’ robust growth through the ‘70s and ‘80s and served as chairman until 1995.

An obituary noted Don worked hard and played hard. He also was known for his “No Bad Days” outlook, and for telling everyone, “I don’t have time to have a bad time.”

It wouldn’t be long before Chairman John Tyson also was encouraging company leaders to look ahead. After initial comments where he noted the passing of an era and credited his father for being a “true visionary” John Tyson said current leadership, “from Donnie Smith and Jim Lochner on down, has the total support of me and the other Tyson board members …”

He continued, “Our company just had a very successful year and with the outstanding board of directors and very strong leadership team we now have in place, we expect the future to be bright for all our team members, shareholders and other stakeholders. That is what my father worked for his whole life and it’s what those of us still involved with the company intend to deliver.”

Speaking of a successful year, last November found Tyson reporting record sales and earnings of $28.4 billion and $765 million respectively during fiscal 2010, ended October 2, 2010.

“Our results this quarter and this year are directly due to our diversified protein business models and our operational improvements, which have raised the level of expectations for Tyson’s performance,” said Smith. “We’re just over halfway through our first quarter of fiscal 2011, and it is shaping up to be a strong quarter and another good year. There are always challenging market conditions to manage. That’s the norm in our business, and we’re prepared to address them.”

Smith shared more details at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch 2011 Consumer Conference this March. There, he described Tyson’s beef and pork segments as “extremely efficient and competitive” and he said company’s chicken segment has improved significantly.

“In the past three years, our chicken business achieved $600 million in performance improvements, and we expect an additional $200 million in fiscal 2011,” he noted.

For the record, Tyson has aggressively recast and/or otherwise improved its poultry operations network. The past 12 months have seen the company (1) take back former poultry processing business that was outsourced to another company; (2) expand and/or improve deboning operations in Indiana, North Carolina, Arkansas; and (3) exit other plants by way divestiture (a pending sale to George’s Inc.) or joint venture. In the latter case, Tyson and the principals of Lopez Foods formed Dorada Poultry to process chicken for McDonald’s at Tyson’s former Ponca City, Okla., plant.

New Product Profile

New line expands presence in frozen snack category.

For The Record

Jan. ‘11 – Tyson is the first major food company to become a full member of the IMAGE program, in conjunction with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jan. ’11 – Tyson marks the passing of longtime Chairman & CEO Don Tyson.
Oct. ‘10 – McDonald’s USA names Tyson as 2010 Supplier of the Year.

FRUIT & VEGETABLE: Take a stand for safety

A mixed bag. Perhaps there’s no one better than a fresh-cut salads company to understand the concept of a salad blend or mix. Companies such as Fresh Express, Salinas, Calif., routinely blend various lettuces and other vegetables to create new products.

Sometimes, too, a company’s full year performance can be described as a “blend.”

Chronologically, it was a year that saw Fresh Express earn a top industry food safety award, introduce six new Fresh Express Kits and launch a produce wash innovation (commercially available to competitors as well) called Fresh Rinse. Along the way, Fresh Express participated in a national “Salad Bar in Every School” campaign from the United Fresh Produce Association.

When it reported its fiscal 2010 results, however, parent Chiquita Brands International noted that annual net sales for its Salads and Healthy Snacks division (mostly Fresh Express) fell 9 percent to $1.0 billion during the 52-week period ended December 31, 2010. On the other hand, Chiquita said Salads and Healthy Snacks’ comparable operating income improved to $63 million in 2010 from $60 million in 2009, primarily as a result of cost reductions in salads and improving results in the European smoothie business (partly offset by lower retail value-added salad volume).

Officials noted operating margins for value-added salads increased to 7.9 percent from 7.6 percent in the prior year. Moreover, the business spent an incremental $9 million in consumer marketing and the development and launch of Fresh Rinse.

Backing up a moment, it was The International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) that recognized Fresh Express last year with IAFP’s top industry honor, the Black Pearl Award for Corporate Excellence in Food Protection and Quality.

A few months later, Chiquita and Fresh Express officials unveiled Fresh Rinse during the Produce Marketing Association’s annual Fresh Summit. Officials presented third-party research to show Fresh Rinse offers superior microbial efficacy against such pathogens as Salmonella, Listeriamonocytogenes and E. coli O157:H7, as compared to the industry’s conventional chlorine sanitizers.

Fresh Express noted that Fresh Rinse is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), contains an FDA-approved ingredient and is acceptable for use on both conventional and organic produce.

In its annual earnings statement, Chiquita underscored food safety as an important point of distinction for Fresh Express.

“The company is focusing on strengthening its long-term competitive position in salads by building consumer loyalty and preference for its branded products through innovations such as the Fresh Rinse food safety and quality technology,” officials said. “Year-on-year retail value-added salad volume and operating margins are expected to be lower during the first half of 2011, reflecting some 2010 conversions to private label. However, new accounts – already signed in late 2010 and early 2011 – are expected to offset negative year-over-year volume trends in the second half of 2011.”

New Product Profile

Six new complete kits for consumers wanting salad “meals.” New varieties include House Ranch, Chicken Caesar and Strawberry Fields.

For The Record

Oct. ’10 – Chiquita Brands promotes Joseph Huston to president of North America, effective January 1, 2011. He succeeds Brian Kocher, who was named president of Europe and the Middle East.

Oct. ’10 – Fresh Express introduces Fresh Rinse, a non-chlorine industrial produce wash to reduce the potential for microorganisms on lettuce and leafy greens.

May ’10 – The International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) presents Fresh Express with IAFP’s top honor, the Black Pearl Award for Corporate Excellence in Food Protection and Quality.

BAKERY FOODS: Top-shelf performance

Like so many intricate layers inside a croissant, there also are many layers to General Mills Inc. Although it seems the company’s Yoplait yogurt business is in the headlines, the Pillsbury Doughboy’s Minneapolis-based parent is still sweet on refrigerated and frozen bakery goods.

Although a weak foodservice market would impact General Mills’ overall business, the company remains the industry’s largest refrigerated and frozen baker with estimated combined net sales of approximately $2 billion across all channels.

Meanwhile, General Mills enjoyed one of its best years in fiscal 2010. Net sales increased 1 percent to $14.8 billion during the 52 weeks ended May 30, 2010. Officials said contribution from volume (measured in pounds) matched prior-year levels, with the impact of one less week and the absence of divested product lines subtracting three points of growth.

General Mills said its gross margin expanded to 39.7 percent, reflecting strong operating performance, effective cost-savings initiatives and supply-chain costs that were below prior-year levels. The company even increased media expense by 24 percent during the past year. Including this investment, segment operating profit grew 8 percent to $2.9 billion.

Net earnings grew 17 percent to $1.5 billion, including a net decline in mark-to-market valuation of certain commodity positions. Excluding certain items affecting comparability, diluted earnings per share grew 16 percent to $2.30.

“This was an exceptional year for our company,” said Chairman & CEO Ken Powell. “We achieved broad-based sales growth and expanded gross margin, which allowed us to invest at above-planned levels in media support and selling capabilities.”

General Mills noted that Pillsbury Toaster Strudel pastries contributed to a 1 percent annual net sales gain for its Pillsbury division. Meanwhile, officials said net 2010 sales for the Bakeries and Foodservice segment fell 14 percent to $1.8 billion. They attributed the drop to pound volume declines (including the impact of divested product lines) one less calendar week of results, and pricing and mix issues related to certain commodity-indexed items.

Most importantly, General Mills said it is fixing its overall foodservice business. Officials said segment operating profit increased 46 percent to $250 million. Successful efforts to emphasize higher-margin product lines and customer channels, lower supply chain costs and productivity savings all contributed to the strong earnings increase.

Meanwhile, General Mills Bakeries & Foodservice appears to be keeping customers happy, according to one recent survey. Industry researchers Kantar Retail and Cognitio, LLC surveyed 465 foodservice operators in both the commercial and non-commercial segments. The researchers’ seventh annual FoodservicElite benchmarking survey asked operators to rank manufacturer-suppliers on the basis of meeting or exceeding operator needs.

General Mills earned a No. 3 composite ranking and scored particularly high marks for offering the best products or brands, providing the most helpful actionable information, working well with operators, and providing the best combination of growth and profitability.

“We are certainly proud to have received this recognition,” said John Machuzick, senior vice president, General Mills Bakeries & Foodservice. “It is a testament to the knowledge of our people and their ability to bring valuable business building insights and solutions that positively impact our customers’ operations.”

New Product Profile

Whole grain nutrition for students, quick heat-and-serve convenience for operators.

For The Record

Jan. ’11 – Fortune magazine ranks General Mills 58th (up from No. 90) on its annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Sept. ’10 – Industry research firms Kantar Retail and Cognitio LLC recognize General Mills Bakeries & Foodservice as an “Elite” manufacturer, according to their seventh annual FoodservicElite benchmarking survey report. General Mills earns a No. 3 composite ranking.

DAIRY FOODS: Winning attitude - no matter what

They say it’s not whether you win or lose – but how you play the game.

Even so, dairy giant Dean Foods Co. truly wants to win. Yet that’s easier said than done. Although Dallas-based company performed well in fiscal 2009, Chairman & CEO Gregg Engles closed that year’s annual report with a sobering note.

“We enter 2010 facing very real challenges,” he said. “Recovery from the recession will be slow and value expectations have been reset to a new, more demanding level. Consumers expect more for less – driving us to focus more on value and find ways to increasingly differentiate our products. I see a future dairy industry with fewer, more efficient players in which Dean extends its leadership position.”

Engles then outlined Dean’s management reorganization; cost saving efforts in purchasing, processing and distribution; renewed focus on value-added (higher margin) new products and aggressive debt reduction spending.

Still, fiscal 2010 proved to be even more daunting. In a year-end statement this February, Dean said earnings fell to $0.50 per diluted share for the full year 2010, as compared to $1.38 per diluted share during fiscal 2009. Although net annual sales rose to $12.1 billion, fiscal 2010 net income fell to $91 million from $240 million in the previous year.

“2010 was an exceptionally difficult year for Dean Foods, and our fourth quarter results reflect many of the same trends that have impacted the business all year,” said Engles. “At Fresh Dairy Direct-Morningstar, wholesale pricing for private label milk remained pressured during the quarter and volume softened. As a consequence, Fresh Dairy Direct-Morningstar operating profit was little changed from the third quarter.

“We have, however, begun to see signs that the fluid milk category is stabilizing, albeit at historically low levels of profitability... Volume, however, remains weak, which we believe will limit upward price mobility,” he continued. “The net result is an industry that appears to be stabilizing at a price and profit level meaningfully below historical norms. To move forward in such an environment means that we must continue to optimize our network to offset volume weakness and drive efficiency to rebuild profits, which is the path that we are on.”

Engles noted that Dean’s WhiteWave-Alpro unit (U.S. natural, organic and value-added products and Alpro’s European soy products) posted full year net sales of $1.9 billion, a 19 percent increase over $1.6 billion in net sales for the full year 2009. He attributed the gains to “overlap benefits from the Alpro acquisition, as well as continued strong growth across the product portfolio.” WhiteWave’s key brands and businesses include Horizon Organic milk, International Delight and Land O’Lakes creamers and Silk soy products.

Looking ahead, Engles spoke once again of winning in the marketplace.

“We expect the first half of 2011 to be particularly difficult as we battle soft volumes and spiking commodities,” he noted. “However, as we lap the most difficult challenges of 2010, as new business comes on line, and as our cost reduction efforts accelerate further, we expect results to strengthen in the back half of the year, and to exceed 2010 performance by the fourth quarter.”

New Product Profile

New original and reduced fat options ideal for baking, cooking.

For The Record

Mar. ’11 – Dean says it will not replace President, COO Joseph Scalzo who leaves for undisclosed reasons.

Jan. ’11 – Dean agrees to sell private label yogurt business and assets to Schreiber Foods.

Nov. ’10 – Dean agrees to sell Mountain High Yoghurt business and brand to General Mills.

Oct. ’10 – Dean says Fresh Dairy Direct President Harrald Kroeker will leave in November. Dean promotes Chris Sliva to chief commercial officer.