It’s (game) show time for food processors as consumers evaluate new products, packaging and pricing.

What’s it like to compete in today’s food industry? Perhaps it’s something like “The Dating Game” or “Hollywood Squares” where you’re simply hoping to be selected by a fickle consumer. Or perhaps it feels like you’re trapped in an episode of “The Price is Right” where consumers focus only on how much things cost.

Then again, you might be focusing on consumer insights, product development and packaging and simply trying to ask the right questions, like on NBC’s “Jeopardy!”

Then there’s the million-dollar question. Will the consumer or customer pick your product from among so many possible options? That’s sort of how NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” works with host Howie Mandel leading contestants through a seemingly random selection of silver briefcases. Interestingly enough, NBC describes its popular new show as a “high-energy contest of nerves, instincts and raw intuition.”

Perhaps that best describes life in food executive’s office. It’s certainly not the easiest proposition as processor-suppliers help foodservice customers cut costs, address consumer health concerns and boost menu appeal. Meanwhile, private label retail sales gains suggest retail shoppers are still pinching pennies – even while spending more for everything from premium coffees and craft beers to Greek yogurt.

This spring found The NPD Group, Chicago, reporting on challenges in both the retail and foodservice sectors. In a report titled, “The Changing Consumer Mindset: What it Means to the Restaurant Industry,” NDP said it found consumers are of two different mindsets when it comes to spending: those that cannot spend freely and those that can.

“Recovery and growth for the restaurant industry will mean understanding the shift in consumer behavior and realigning strategies with what may be the new normal,” wrote Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. “Rather than age largely defining frequency and type of restaurant visited, lingering effects of prolonged unemployment and loss of wealth by many will carry forward in years to come, regardless of age.”

In a second study, “What’s Next on the Road to Recovery,” NPD said U.S. consumers emerged from the recession practiced at stretching their dollars. Moreover, now that they’re faced with rising food costs, consumers are turning to the cost-savings tactics they’ve mastered during the past few years.

“The post-recession consumer hasn't yet returned to financially stable ground and are now dealing with rising food and gas prices,” said Mark East, president of NPD’s food and beverage unit. “It’s important for manufacturers and retailers to understand the shifts in consumers’ attitudes and behaviors in light of the economy and rising prices and connect with the consumer both in-home and in-store with a meaningful value proposition.”

So what’s the prize behind the curtain for refrigerated and frozen food processors? Perhaps it’s reward of knowing that demographic trends favor temperature-controlled foods.

NPD says that – 30 years ago, when it starting tracking America’s eating behaviors – 72 percent of main dishes at dinner were homemade. Today 59 percent of main dishes are made- from-scratch with many households preferring ready-to-eat and frozen foods, and assembling a meal rather than preparing it.

“The fast and hectic pace of the lives we lead has had the single greatest impact on this country's eating behaviors,” says Mark East. “It's clear by the changes we’ve observed over the past 30 years that the Google generation wants things now.”

New products address K-12 nutrition standards.
Photo courtesy of AdvancePierre Foods

Foodservice Entrees: Menu matchmaking

Reality game show fans may know ABC’s “The Bachelorette,” where one woman gets to date and pick a potential mate from among 25 eligible bachelors. Yet perhaps the most entertaining program was “The Dating Game” (ABC, 1965-1973). This format placed a young woman on one side of a partition and audience watched as she put various quirky personal questions to each of three bachelors on the other side of the wall.

Both scenarios have had viewers thinking, “Which one will she pick?”

It’s easier to project foodservice operators’ entrée selections. Many are rushing to build their breakfast business while favoring other items that help distinguish them in the tighter lunch and dinnertime market. Commercial and non-commercial operators alike are simply responding to federal health guidelines.

Chicago’s Technomic observed, “As the USDA moves closer to finalizing new nutrition standards for the nation’s school lunch and breakfast programs, food directors at roughly 135,000 public and private schools serving more than 56 million students are anticipating what the changes will be, and how to address them.”

Likewise, as America ramps up its fight against bulging waist lines, restaurant chains are providing ammunition in the form of great-tasting menu items with 550 or fewer calories, said Technomic. The trend not only caters to increasing consumer demand for such items, but also helps restaurants prepare for pending legislation that requires any brand operating 20 or more units to display nutritional information for all permanent menu items.

Honorees in the National Restaurant Association’s first annual “Food & Beverage Product Innovations Awards” included ConAgra Foods’ “The Max Fit for Kids” Plus Whole Grain Stuffed Crust Pizza. ConAgra Foodservice says this frozen pizza is made with 51 percent all natural whole grain flour and meets new National School Lunch standards, including lower sodium. The company also offers similar frozen whole grain pancakes.

Meanwhile, other active processor-suppliers include K-12 school giant Schwan’s Food Service, Inc. (Tony’s Ultimate Cheese and Reduced Fat Pepperoni Flatbreads) and Cincinnati’s AdvancePierre Foods (Smart Picks sandwiches, mac and cheese and whole grain “Graham Snackers.”)

On the commercial side, breakfast has been big news. Writing for Prepared Foods magazine’s 2010 Foodservice Annual report, Mintel International’s Eric Giandelone, director of research, noted, “Perhaps nothing is becoming more important for restaurants than the breakfast sandwich. Faced with declining customer traffic, restaurants are looking to boost sales by entering a new daypart – breakfast and they are leading with the breakfast sandwich.”

Giandelone mentioned Burger King’s move to a new breakfast menu and Subway’s new “Build Your Better Breakfast” sandwich line. Nation’s Restaurant News recently honored the Subway line as one of NRN’s 2010 MenuMasters award winners.

Entrée Menu Trends
1 Breakfast
2 Healthy (including controlled calorie, gluten-free)
3 Mini sandwiches / half portions    
4 Comfort foods    
5 Shareable entrees

Sources: Mintel Foodservice, Technomic, National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2011 chef survey

Seasoned pork sparerib prepared, priced and packaged for QSR sales.
Photo courtesy of Tyson Foods

Foodservice Meat, Poultry & Seafood: Ask the right questions

Since its 1964 start, NBC’s “Jeopardy!” has been a popular game show with a unique answer-and-question format. It has host Alex Trebek reading clues in the form of answers and contestants must phrase their responses in question form.

Truth is, every meat, poultry and seafood processors already believes their product is just right answer for a restaurant operators and consumer. Yet it is a matter of asking the right questions related to value, taste, portion size and versatility.

Foodservice researcher Technomic Inc. also has been asking questions.  In a recent seafood report, Technomic said despite the fact that only about two percent of fish and seafood eaten in the United States comes from the gulf, the recent Gulf oil spill affected consumer behavior. It found that 23 percent of consumers said their consumption of seafood at restaurants decreased during the spill. Perhaps more importantly, 19 percent of consumers were still eating less fish even as much as four months later as a direct result of the spill.

In a look at beef and pork trends, Technomic said nearly two out of three consumers recently surveyed think beef and pork products labeled or menued with premium descriptors such as grass-fed, lean, organic or natural will taste better than other beef and pork products that do not carry these same labels. Terms describing premium types and cuts of meat had a strong influence on perception of flavor and price thresholds, while terms describing natural farming and preparation were likely to influence consumers’ perception of healthfulness.

In its latest poultry report, Technomic said consumers eat chicken more frequently than any other type of meat. Yet despite this high rate of consumption, consumers indicate that opportunities still exist for new poultry applications, particularly at breakfast. Twenty-five percent of chicken consumers say they would very likely order chicken breakfast sandwiches at restaurants if they were available. The numbers are slightly higher for turkey-eating consumers, with 29 percent saying they would likely order breakfast sandwiches or burritos featuring turkey sausage or bacon.

For their part, processors are working harder to please operators and consumers alike. Interestingly, Prepared Foods magazine honored three new foodservice products in its 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards.

The top honor went to Tyson Foods for a QSR version of Seasoned Pork Spareribs, which Tyson developed in partnership with Burger King. Launched last May as a five-week, limited-time offer, Burger King eventually sold more than 27 million ribs and had to stop the program one week short due a supply shortfall.

Second- and third-place honors respectively went to Meyer Natural Angus, Loveland, Colo.; and Brakebush Brothers Inc., Westfield, Wis. Prepared Foods recognized Meyer’s frozen sous vide line of entrée meat portions that can go from freezer to plate in about 12 minutes. For its part, Brakebush Brothers developed Tappers Beer-battered Boneless Wings, which may be the market’s only beer-battered wings. The product can serve as either an appetizer or main entrée.

Another processor appealing to customers and consumers alike is Fishery Products International. This Danvers, Mass., company introduced FireRoasters, a six-item line of flame-seared salmon, tilapia and cod fillets for foodservice operators lacking the resources to prepare roasted seafood from scratch. Varieties include Smoky Applewood Salmon, Asian Barbecue Salmon, Thai Basil Tilapia and Citrus Peppercorn Tilapia.

What’s “Hot” on the Menu – Top 5 Main Dishes
Meat, poultry seafood star in most popular entrée, main dish offerings*
1 Locally sourced meat, seafood
2 Sustainable seafood
3 Half-portion/smaller portion at smaller price
4 New fabricated meat cuts (e.g. Denver steak, pork flat iron, Petite Tender)
5 Non-traditional fish (e.g. branzino, Arctic char, barramundi)

*Source: National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot?” survey, conducted fall 2010 with more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation. 

Award winner combines on-trend ingredient (sweet potato) with prep versatility.
Photo courtesy of ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston

Foodservice Snacks, Appetizers & Side Dishes: Appetizer X's and O's

From 1966 to 1981, NBC’s “The Hollywood Squares” combined strategy with light comedy. The show had a man and woman playing tic-tac-toe and selecting one of nine Hollywood celebrities (such as Paul Lynde, Jonathan Winters, Florence Henderson and Charo) who sat in game board squares. Each contestant tried to line up their respective X’s or O’s as the show host put trivia questions to the celebrity. Once the star answered, contestants could either agree or disagree with the answer. If the contestant was right, he or she got the square; if the contestant was wrong, the other contestant got the square.

Appetizers, snacks and sides also are restaurant menu celebrities. Not the main course, these light offerings are colorful, spicy, fun and different. Even so, processor suppliers and restaurant operators are more strategic to offer those items with the most appeal to the kitchen and the consumer.
Today’s products offer more variety, versatility and/or health appeal.

When the National Restaurant Association (NRA) held its first annual “Food & Beverage Product Innovations Awards,” this year, it recognized several items including new Sweet Things Mini Tater Puffs (pictured upper right) from ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston, Tri-Cities, Wash.

Said NRA contest judges, “These unique and flavorful puffs are made from on-trend sweet potatoes are perfectly sized for enjoyment in any meal occasion. Crispy outside and tender inside, they are great for dipping – plus they offer versatile preparation, including conventional baking.”

Smile and say “cheese.” Another processor showcasing big, bite-size flavor (for portion control and sharing) is McCain Foods USA. The past year saw this Lisle, Ill.-based processor debut two round Anchor Cheese Shotz appetizers in Mozzarella-Parmesan and Pepper Jack flavors.

Restaurant operators also talked about their new items. Wendy’s/Arby’s Group, Inc., Dublin, Ohio, promoted its fall 2010 launch of natural-cut fries with sea salt. This January also found T.G.I. Friday’s, Carrollton, Texas, touting 14 bold flavored new menu additions including starters such as Tapa-tizer Skewers and Spinach Florentine Flatbreads.

Processor Windsor Foods, Houston, also turned up the flavor with new offerings. Its Asian and Hispanic brands (Golden Tiger, Posada) introduced Poblano Chili con Queso Rangoon, Southwestern Style Egg Rolls and Queso Blue Corn Mini Tacos.

Last year saw the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade recognize Day-Lee Foods Inc., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., with a 2010 sofi silver finalist award (“Outstanding Perishable Foodservice Product”) for its Pork Gyoza Potsticker. Judges praised the item, which comes fully cooked and facilitates convenient prep in fewer than five minutes. The potstickers also contain no preservatives, no trans fat and no MSG.

What’s “Hot” on the Menu – Top 5 Chefs pick the most popular appetizers*
1    Ethnic / street food-inspired appetizers (e.g. tempura, taquitos, kabobs, hummus)
2    Amuse bouche / bite-size hors d’oeuvres
3    Warm appetizer salads
4    Appetizer combos / platters
5    Dumplings / dim sum    

*Source: National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot?” survey, conducted fall 2010 with more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation.

Crispy battered green beans versatile as a side, snack or appetizer.
Photo courtesy McCain Foods USA

Foodservice Fruit & Vegetables: Whatever it takes

Nothing too complicated here. On NBC’s “Minute to Win It,” contestants have to complete a series of challenges using everyday household items – within 60 seconds. There are 10 challenges (such as stacking seven Hostess Ding Dongs on your forehead) and a chance to ultimately win $1 million … but the level of difficulty increases each time.

Money on the line. Pressure to perform. Never know what’s coming next. A challenge to do whatever it takes? This also sounds like life in the frozen foodservice fruit and vegetable category.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) released new data that shows mothers have steadily found it easier to get their families to eat fruits and vegetables when eating out over the past two years, particularly at fast-food establishments.

In 2010, mothers reported it easy to eat fruit (25 percent) and vegetables (17 percent) at a fast-food establishment, up significantly from 2008 … when 19 percent who reported it easy to eat fruit and 8 percent reporting that it was easy to eat vegetables. Thirty seven percent of moms reported it easy to get their families to eat fruit at restaurants generally, versus 29 percent in 2008. Moms reported ease in getting vegetables at restaurants declined, however, from 45 percent to 43 percent between 2008 and 2010.

Despite the increases in moms’ reported ease of getting families to eat more fruit in restaurants, only 8.8 percent of all menu items include fruit, and only 3 percent of overall fruit consumption comes from restaurants, says PBH. Regarding vegetables, 44.8 percent of all menu items include at least one vegetable (excluding chips and fries), and 15 percent of all vegetable consumption (excluding chips & fries) is consumed in restaurants. Together, only 11 percent of fruits and vegetables are consumed at restaurants, representing 72 cups per person per year. Despite the increases seen in the past two years, there is still huge room for improvement when it comes to restaurants serving more fruits and vegetables.

Processors are trying to address that need in every way, shape and form. Companies such as McCain Foods USA and Simplot Food Group have developed new flavored and unflavored items with appeal to consumers and kitchen help alike. McCain says its new Anchor green bean product (pictured) features a light, crispy seasoned batter that adds taste and texture while it doesn’t take away from sweet green bean flavor. Moreover, the item works as an appetizer, snack or side dish.

Elsewhere, Simplot has developed several new RoastWorks blends (including Southwest, Unseasoned Peppers & Onions) fruit blends and vegetable blends with sauces and glazes. These latter items range from Green Beans with Smoky Bacon Sauce to Whole Baby Carrots with a Brown Sugar Glaze.

Restaurant operators also are tapping into consumer interest for “local” products. Nation’s Restaurant News recently honored Shari’s Restaurants & Pies, Beaverton, Ore., as one of the publication’s 2011 MenuMaster Award winners (best line extension). Shari’s touted its use of local Pacific Northwest blackberries for a limited-time offer titled, “Fresh Blackberry Season” promotion. The promotion generated double-digit sales increases.

What’s next? Restaurant menu consultant Andrew Freeman, Andrew Freeman & Co., San Francisco, predicts (1) more vegetables overall (growing meatless preference; closer greater ties to local farmers); (2) fried obscure vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and turnip chips; and (3) Kumquats used in salads, relishes and desserts.

What’s “Hot” on the Menu – Top 5 Produce Picks Chefs pick the most popular produce offerings*
1    Locally grown produce
2    Organic produce
3    Superfruits (e.g. acai, goji berry, mangosteen, purisane)
4    Heirloom beans
5    Exotic fruit (e.g. durian, passion fruit, dragon fruit, paw paw, guava)   

*Source: National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot?” survey, conducted fall 2010 with more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation

Gluten-free options multiplying at foodservice
Photo courtesy of Archer Daniels Midland

Foodservice Bakery Products: Popover here for a clue

CBS’ “The Amazing Race” is a different kind of game show. This Emmy-awarding winning reality program pits teams of two or four against each other in a worldwide race for clues … and the ultimate $1 million prize for the winners. With TV cameras following contestants to exotic locations, the show offers plenty of twists, global adventure and never-before-seen images.

That’s also how the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and market researcher Packaged Facts described bakery trends in a recent report.

“Baked goods have always provided nostalgic comfort, but today’s new offerings also deliver premium twists, global flavor adventure and never-before-seen convenience,” said the authors. “Found in nearly every channel, these newsworthy sweet and savory baked foods nurture, indulge and satisfy the modern consumer, even those with dietary restrictions.”

Chicago’s Technomic agrees. Concluding its own “Dessert Consumer Trend Report,” the firm noted, “While traditional desserts may win out with most consumers on most dining occasions … consumers take the uniqueness of a dessert item into account, when considering a purchase. Therefore, traditional desserts with a contemporary tweak, in terms of flavor or preparation, may be the most appealing to many, allowing them a low-risk way to try a favorite dessert with an interesting, slightly different twist.”

Technomic noted that mini-desserts are still going strong, because they meet so many consumer needs. Minis offer a bit of indulgence for a low price. They are a fun treat, representing little risk or expenditure in terms of either money or calories – a perfect fit for consumers who are re-evaluating either their portion sizes or their definition of restaurant value. Some favorite bite-sized sweets include brownies, bananas Foster, carrot cake, cheesecakes in multiple preparation styles (fried cheesecake bites, etc.), miniature tiramisu bites, donut holes and tiny bread puddings.

Foodservice bakery product suppliers also are trying to meet operators’ needs by addressing …

… kitchen convenience. Among the National Restaurant Association’s first annual “Food & Beverage Product Innovations Award” winners were La Brea Bakery, Van Nuys, Calif., and Sinco Inc., a Belmont, Mass., importer. NRA judges said La Brea’s par-baked all-natural pre-sliced Telera rolls help operators easily and quickly create an authentic Mexican Torta sandwich. They praised Sinco’s line of Italian-made hand-stretched wood-fired pizza crusts. The par-baked, pre-made crust look like they were hand-crafted on premise, judges said.

… health concerns. Processors are formulating more gluten-free products of every type. Last year also saw suppliers such as CSM Bakery Products, Atlanta, replace standard offerings with new offerings friendlier to menu nutritional labeling efforts. CSM launched TranSmart, a complete line of thaw-and-serve trans fat free dessert, holiday and celebration cakes.

… market insights. That latest offering from Sara Lee Foodservice is its Dessert Menuvision toolbox, an interactive online platform that provides operators with custom solutions to help enhance their dessert offerings for increased sales and patron satisfaction. One component is the Dessert Menu Optimizer, an online guide to help operators determine the right dessert assortment for their restaurants, officials say.

Bakery Menu Trends
1    Pies (sweet and savory)
2    Bite-size / mini desserts
3    Cupcakes
4    Flatbreads
5    American popovers, Gougères
6    Panini, pressed-bread sandwiches
7    Gluten-free
8    Signature breads, whole-grain breads
9    Pretzels

Sources: “Baked Goods: Culinary Trend Mapping Report” from Center for Culinary Development and Packaged Facts; Andrew Freeman & Co.; National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2011” chef survey.

Artisan, ethnic cheeses add flavor, appeal to entrees, sides.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

Foodservice Dairy: Top Chef dairy products

Can they perform in the kitchen? Are they flexible enough to handle various menu options? Do they bring a unique edge or flavor to their work? Can they please picky restaurant patrons? Those are just a few questions celebrity judges pose every week as aspiring “cheftestants” on Bravo’s “Top Chef” TV program.

Then again, restaurant operators apply the same critical review of foodservice dairy cheeses, butters, ice creams and more. And by all accounts, dairy products appear to be winners any way you score it.

Asked last fall about the hottest, on-trend ingredients, chefs told the National Restaurant Association (NRA) that artisan cheeses and ethnic cheeses, respectively, were their favorites (see chart). Members of the American Culinary Federation (more than 1,500 polled) also said that ice cream – particularly an artisan or house-made offering – is the most popular restaurant dessert.

And there certainly are a few scoops of truth to that fact, according to Technomic Inc. The foodservice market researcher recently dedicated an entire study to frozen desserts on the menu. Technomic noted that frozen desserts comprised 28.4 percent of all desserts on the menus the company tracked during the first half of 2010.

“Complexity, customization, and portions are all very important,” wrote Mary Chapman, a director at the Chicago firm. “Operators need to differentiate their items from those offered by retailers, and they need to make the offerings available in various sizes to attract diners who are concerned with health, value, or who are simply too full to eat a large dessert.”

More than half of consumers told Technomic that they eat vanilla ice cream at least once a month, and 46 percent said the same of chocolate. And although vanilla and chocolate dominate the ice cream category, there are a multitude of milkshakes, sundaes, frozen yogurts, sorbets, gelatos, and even tofu based non-dairy dessert flavors that each has a special place in the hearts of consumers.

Researchers noted that frozen yogurt concepts occupy the top and bottom of the growth spectrum. All but one of the 10 fastest growing chains were frozen yogurt concepts, but other frozen yogurt chains experienced some of the largest declines within the top 500 chains.

Meanwhile, artisan-style products are indeed popular everywhere – from casual and white tablecloth restaurants to ice cream chain outlets. For its part, Cold Stone Creamery unveiled a summertime “Gold Cone” collection with such varieties as Lemon Poppyseed, Strawberry Basil Ice and Mojito Sorbet (limited time offer).

Still more foodservice dairy offerings are winning critical acclaim elsewhere. NRA recently held its first annual “Food & Beverage Product Innovations Awards” contest involving an independent panel of judges from commercial and non-commercial industry segments. These chefs and buyers selected 13 new products as contest winners to be recognized during NRA’s Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago this spring.

Winners included a spreadable roasted garlic herb butter from Epicurean Butter, Federal Heights, Colo.

Judges said this chef-created, versatile spread is “delicious, convenient and consistent enough to scale up for large operations.” The butter uses all-natural, premium ingredients blended with Grade AA butter.

1    Artisan cheeses
2    Ethnic cheeses (e.g. queso fresco, paneer, lebneh, halloumi)
3    Artisan/specialty bacon
4    Ancient grains
5    Black garlic
*Source: National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot?” survey, conducted fall 2010 with more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation.

1    Artisan / house-made ice cream
2    Bite-size, mini desserts
3    Dessert flights / combos
4    Deconstructed classic desserts
5    Savory desserts

*Source: National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot?” survey, conducted fall 2010 with more than 1,500 chef members of the American Culinary Federation.

Multi-serve, restaurant style  a winning combination.

Retail Meals & Entrees: Married to convenience

Is there anything funnier than newlyweds? Not really. That’s why “The Newlywed Game” (ABC, 1966-1974) was so popular.

The show pitted several newly married couples against each other. Play would involve asking all husbands – then alternatively, the wives – to leave the room. The host Bob Eubanks would ask the remaining spouse a series of funny questions to reveal how well the spouses know (or don’t know) each other. The goal was for the in-studio spouse to correctly say how their absent partner would answer the same question.

Without fail, the game produced its fair share of amusing disagreements. Similarly, although not all refrigerated and frozen prepared meal and entrée categories are posting dollar and unit sales gains (see chart), it’s clear consumers are still married to – and going home with – these further prepared meal solutions.

Last fall, The NPD Group observed, “Thirty years ago when [we] began continuous tracking of America's eating behaviors, 72 percent of main dishes at dinner were homemade. Today 59 percent of main dishes are made-from-scratch with many households preferring ready-to-eat and frozen foods, and assembling a meal rather than preparing it.”

“The fast and hectic pace of the lives we lead has had the single greatest impact on this country’s eating behaviors,” said Mark East, president of NPD’s North American Food & Beverage Group. “It’s clear by the changes we’ve observed over the past 30 years that the Google generation wants things now.”

NPD notes that consumers are eating many of the same foods they ate three decades ago but what has changed is who prepares the food and how it’s prepared. A sandwich is still among the top foods consumed but 30-years ago the sandwich was prepared by someone in the household. Today that sandwich is more likely ready-to-eat, frozen, or prepared by a restaurant or foodservice outlet.

“Americans have an ever increasing need for convenience when it comes to eating,” says Mark East. “We fully expect this trend to continue as ready-to-eat meals prepared outside the home and eaten in-home, fresh and frozen foods are all forecasted to grow notably in the next decade.”
Meanwhile, refrigerated and frozen food processors have been busy to attract consumers with …

… better-for-you improvements. Nearly every major CPG company has announced sodium reduction efforts. In addition, Kraft Foods’ Oscar Mayer business introduced Lunchables varieties with 100-percent white meat chicken and DOLE Mandarin oranges or pineapple bits (for a full fruit serving). In the freezercase, Nestlé Prepared Foods Co. rolled out new Stouffer’s Farmers’ Harvest single- and multi-serve entree lines, each with more whole grains, vegetables and wholesome ingredients (such as sea salt) in every serving. Elsewhere, Pasta Prima, Benicia, Calif., introduced a refrigerated, gluten-free offering. 

… improved, quick quality. Nestlé Prepared Foods’ new Lean Cuisine Market Creations single-serve steaming entrees won Better Homes and Gardens’ 2010 Best New Product Award in the “healthier meals category.” Winners in each category had to have the highest combined score on product appeal and re-purchase intent among those who had previously purchased the product. ConAgra Foods’ Healthy Choice steaming entrées earned a Gold Award (Consumer Packaged Goods / Food) category at the 2011 Edison Best New Product Awards. ConAgra says the new package builds on the proprietary steaming technology introduced earlier with Healthy Choice Café Steamers. ConAgra also introduced its microwave steam tray-in-tray technology to the Marie Callender’s entrée brand.

… multi-serve convenience, value. Nestlé Prepared Foods’ seven-item line of Buitoni Riserva Complete Meals for Two earned “Product of the Year” acclaim (specialty foods category) from the global Product of the Year organization, involving more than 60,000 consumers surveyed by TNS Global Market Research, New York, N.Y. Elsewhere, ConAgra Foods introduced five Marie Callender’s multi-serve entrees delivering home-style, baked taste – straight from the microwave, officials say.

… budget-friendly value. ConAgra expanded its frozen BanquetFamily size line with two more varieties – all delivering an average retail price of $2.50 for six servings, officials say. It also added new frozen single-serve entrees for an average retail price of just one dollar.

… restaurant-style offerings. Taking a page from Panera Bread, Nestlé Prepared Foods launched three Stouffer’s Corner Bistro Stuffed Melts and Soups. Each frozen package contains a microwaveable café-style soup and stuffed melt sandwich. How about pub grub? Last summer saw Pinnacle Foods introduce Hungry-Man Pub Favorites with varieties such as Chopped Beef Steak with Beer Onion Gravy and Honey Bourbon Chicken.

Category Close-Up: Meals & Entrees Category   
Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Fz. single-serve    3,276.8    -5.4    1,555.5    -3.4
Fz. multi-serve    1,320.3    5.9    242.7    6.9
Fz. h-held    1,256.7    -2.4    546.3    -3.2
Rfg. lunch comb.    779.8    4.6    373.3    6.0
Fz. pot pie    268.3    0.9    187.9    -0.03
Fz. pasta    267.1    0.2    93.2    -0.5
Rfg. pasta    222.8    5.1    52.9    4.0

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

New line has unique vegetables, different sauces and a new look with no outer carton.

Retail Pizza: The real deal

Think your day is stressful? Filled with nerve-wracking financial decisions? Try competing on NBC’s “Deal or No Deal.” Hosted by Howie Mandel, it’s a game of odds and chance where a contestant begins simply by picking one of 26 sealed briefcases – full of varying amounts of cash – ranging from a measly penny to $1 million.

Without knowing the amount in each briefcase, the contestant picks one – his to keep, if he chooses – until its unsealing at game’s end. Show organizers say the risk element kicks in when the player must then instinctively eliminate the remaining 25 cases – which are opened and the amount of cash inside revealed. The pressure mounts as in each round, after a pre-determined number of cases are opened, the participant is tempted by a mysterious entity known only as “the Banker” to accept an offer of cash in exchange for what might be contained in the contestant’s chosen briefcase – prompting Mandel to ask the all-important question: Deal or No Deal?

For their part, retail pizza processors are trying to help consumers make the best choice. In fact, Schwan’s Consumer Brands, Bloomington, Minn., hired Mandel for a new Red Baron “Real Deal” pizza promotion.

In one of Schwan’s largest pizza promotions, Mandel stars in six unscripted web videos with real families. The goal is to expose the hidden costs of delivery pizza while highlighting the ways in which Red Baron Pan Pizza is the “Real Deal” in terms of cost, quality, taste and speed to the table.
Although their reported total sales figures vary by measured outlets, both SymphonyIRI Group and Nielsen show similar trend lines in the retail frozen pizza category.

“For the first time in recent memory, a marketing onslaught by quick-serve pizza chains has stifled encroachment by the retail frozen pizza category,” said Nielsen in a recent category review. “… This is a sharp reversal for frozen pizza, which has typically earned its high-visibility freezer door position as a convenient, low-priced, heat-and-eat meal solution for households constrained by time and budgets.”

Nielsen said frozen pizza dollar sales grew consistently since long before the recession: up an annual average of 3.8 percent since 2000, outpacing the concurrent 2.7 percent annual growth of the food market overall, reported Datamonitor last year.

Moreover, U.S. pizza consumption is at a record high. The average American will eat restaurant pizza 19 times and frozen pizza at home 14 times in 2011, NPD Group told the Chicago Tribune this spring. Pizza, says Harry Balzer, NPD’s chief industry analyst, ranks sixth as a dinner entrée behind sandwiches, chicken, beef, Italian food and pork.

Nielsen continued, “To capitalize on such positive trends, Nestlé acquired Kraft's leadership share in the U.S. frozen pizza category. But in the time Nestlé needed to create its brand management strategy, the quick-serve pizza chains rebounded. Now both Nestlé (DiGiorno brand) and Schwan, the No. 2  market share leader (Red Baron brand) are running advertising campaigns promoting their quality and value against that of the pizza delivery chains (Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, for example).“

Since consumers order appetizers 42 percent of the time and side items 50 percent of the time when ordering pizza from a restaurant (Technomic Pizza Consumer Trend Report 2010), frozen pizza makers have begun to pair foods within their pizza boxes.

Frozen Pizza - Top 5 Brands
Brand    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
1    DiGiorno    622.7    4.9    117.2    5.7
2    Private Label    271.3    -7.9    112.1    -11.4
3    Red Baron    266.2    12.1    70.9    15.7
4    Tombstone    246.6    -3.8    70.3    -2.3
5    Totino’s    160.9    2.0    27.9    5.1
Total Category**    2,947.5    -3.3    980.1    -3.6

*From previous 52-week period. **Includes sales for products not shown Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Strong daypart sales, new freezercase competitor

Retail Breakfast Entrees: America's got ... breakfast

More than just singing, NBC’s popular “America’s Got Talent” reality game show competition is known for variety. The program features an array of hopeful stars including singers, dancers, comedians, contortionists, impressionists, jugglers, magicians and ventriloquists – all vying to win acclaim and a one million dollar prize from celebrity judges.

Similarly, all sorts of refrigerated and frozen foods are vying for sales, stardom and a seat at America’s breakfast table. There are several good reasons, according to market and trend researchers such as The Food Channel. The Chicago media outlet said a 2011 survey found 95 percent of respondents viewed breakfast as very or somewhat important. About two thirds said they ate breakfast every day without fail and the same percentage said they eat breakfast at home, while nearly 25 percent eat breakfast at work.

Meanwhile, the breakfast daypart has become the key battleground in the quick-service restaurant category, according to a “Top 10 Breakfast Trends for 2011” report by The Food Channel, in conjunction with CultureWaves, the International Food Futurists and Mintel International.

Other top 10 breakfast trends involve oatmeal, chocolate, ethnic entrees, breakfast pizza, all-day-long breakfast menus (foodservice), two-stage grazing and the return of eggs (from nutritional exile).

Meanwhile, breakfast restaurant operators such as the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) also are targeting the retail freezercase. This Glendale, Calif.-based chain introduced a frozen IHOP at HOME retail line this May. Debuting at Walmart, the dual-ovenable line includes French Toast Stuffed Pastries, Omelet Crispers and Griddle ‘n Sausage Wraps.

“When our guests don't have the time to visit an IHOP Restaurant but don't want to settle for their at home breakfast, IHOP at HOME provides a delicious new option,” said Jean Birch, IHOP president. “IHOP has long been loved for its unique breakfast dishes that can't be found elsewhere, and IHOP at HOME offers busy, on-the-go consumers delicious new choices for the most important meal of the day.”
For their part, long-time retail processors aren’t standing still. New offerings target interests in …

… better kids’ options. Sara Lee launched Jimmy D’s meat-and-bakery entrees for kids and tweens. Varieties include French Toast Griddlers, Griddle Sticks and French Toast Duos. Meanwhile, Uncrustables kids sandwich processor Smucker’s entered the category with Snack’n Waffles, a line of microwavable waffles with flavor baked – so there’s no need for syrup or even utensils.

… health.Kellogg says its new Eggo FiberPlus waffles deliver 35 percent of the daily recommended value for fiber in every serving. Meanwhile, H.J. Heinz Co.’s two new Weight Watchers Smart Ones breakfast (an egg, sausage and cheese breakfast wrap, French Toast with Turkey Sausage) each have 290 calories or less and 8 grams of whole grains. Elsewhere, Pinnacle Foods added an Oatmeal Pancake offering to its Aunt Jemima frozen breakfast line. Sausage maker Tennessee Pride also introduced its first poultry-based breakfast sandwich: Turkey Sausage Biscuits. Officials said they are the only snack-size turkey breakfast sandwich and they contain 60 percent less fat.

… quick convenience. Pancakes from a can? You bet. Ongoing success led refrigerated pancake mix processor Batter Blaster, Austin, Texas, to add three new favors this May: Double Chocolate, Buttermilk and Organic Whole Wheat with Brown Sugar & Cinnamon. Back in the freezercase, Sara Lee added Jimmy Dean Sausage Crumbles, a re-sealable bag of fully cooked sausage pieces that consumers can quickly open, pour and use for instant breakfast burritos, omelets, etc.

Close-up - Breakfast Entrees
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Fz. waffles    517.8    2.4    214.0    -0.6
Fz. h-held entrees    379.7    15.5    94.8    14.2
Fz. entrees    378.6    4.5    143.5    2.3    
Fz. breakfast/other    172.4    -3.7    74.7    -1.0    
Rfg. entrees    31.6    -7.9    8.3    -6.9

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Baked taste from the microwave – in less than five minutes.

Retail Snacks, appetizers & Side Dishes: Let's make a deal!

What do game shows and snacks have in common? More than you realize. Take CBS’ “Let’s Make a Deal” (1963-present) for example. The format involves several “deals” between the host and a member or members of the audience as traders. Audience members were picked at the host’s whim as the show went along.

The “deals” were mini-games within the show that took several formats. In the simplest format, the host begins with a prize of medium value and then offers the contestant the opportunity to trade for another prize (of higher or lesser value). However, the offered prize was unknown. It might be concealed on the stage behind one of three curtains, behind “boxes” onstage or occasionally concealed in something smaller brought out to the audience.

Perhaps one of the show’s most entertaining moments comes at the beginning. That’s when audience members – in all shapes and sizes – dress up in odd clothing and costumes to attract the host and be selected for the game.

Life in the retail prepared snack and side dish categories is similar. These products come in all shapes and sizes – from frozen spring rolls or soft pretzels to refrigerated mashed potatoes and gelatin. They’re not quite meal “essentials” – so they’re often chosen on a whim by shoppers. Last but not least, these products have to do everything they can to stand out and be selected.

Refrigerated and frozen food processors are targeting …

… better-for-you options.Kim & Scott's Gourmet Pretzels, Chicago, applied one of the bakery category’s biggest trends – gluten-free formulations – to their premium stuffed soft pretzel line.

… restaurant-style adventure. Similar to its combination offerings for DiGiorno frozen pizza (pizza with breadsticks, chicken wings or cookies), Nestlé Pizza Company offers a frozen California Pizza Kitchen & Appetizer product. One new offering (in limited distribution) involves a four-cheese thin crust pizza with spinach artichoke dip and 10 flatbread wedges.

Frozen Asian foods leader Kahiki Foods, Gahanna, Ohio, added several new “bites” products. These include new Spring Roll Bites (Chicken, Buffalo Style Chicken) and Sweet Chili Chicken Tempura Nuggets.

Frozen entrée processor Nestlé Prepared Foods, Solon, Ohio, also took its Lean Cuisine brand into a new snacking occasion with three new Lean Cuisine spring rolls (Garlic Chicken, Thai-Style, Fajita-Style), each with just 200 calories per serving.  “We all have cravings at snack time, but there are so many boring choices out there,” said Christine Dahm, vice president of marketing. “Snacking should be enjoyable and something we look forward to.”

… quick meal solutions. While Bob Evans repackaged its refrigerated side dish line for brighter new look, deli salads processor Reser’s Fine Foods, Beaverton, Ore., extended its Main Street Bistro brand with three new “Bakes” offerings: Scalloped Potatoes, Mac & Cheese and Hash Brown Casserole. Reser’s says the 20-ounce servings come in patent-pending “Top Bake” technology to deliver home-baked taste from microwave in just five minutes.

Elsewhere, McCain Foods USA, Lisle, Ill., played it simple with new Purely Potatoes. Available in two varieties (skin-on premium Whole Baby Potatoes, peeled premium Russet Potato Slices) these flash frozen, microwaveable products are ready to be mashed, roasted and/or sautéed. Most importantly, they eliminate the mess, fuss and time associated with potato prep, officials say. Meanwhile, the 100-percent all natural products do not contain artificial flavors or artificial colors.

… bite-size diversions. The past year finds several companies filling out lines with new bite-size offerings. Soft pretzel giant J&J Snack Foods Corp., Pennsauken, N.J., introduced three flavors of SuperPretzel PretzelDogs, soft pretzels stuffed with mini hot dogs (including two varieties with cheese). Elsewhere, Rich’s Consumer Brands, St. Simon’s Island, Ga., launched Farm Rich Stuffed Pretzel Bites. With just 110 calories and 0 grams trans fat per serving, officials say these hot snacks are healthier than chips or French fries.

Already loaded with frozen Mexican entrees, Ruiz Foods, Dinuba, Calif., branches out this summer with two new items. Officials told RFFRetailer this June that they will add Li’L Diablos stuffed jalapenos (Cheddar & Bacon, Creamy Cheese) and Potato Skins (Cheddar, Bacon & Jalapenos) to the company’s growing El Monterey snack line.

Close-Up – Frozen Snacks, Appetizer & Side Dishes
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Potatoes, Fries    1.006.5    0.06    377.9    0.7
Appetizers, Snack Rolls    903.3    -2.9    253.3    -2.6
Side Dishes    228.7    -1.3    98.3    -1.7
Pretzels    44.5    -5.7    17.1    -7.1

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Close-Up – Refrigerated Snacks, Appetizers & Side Dishes
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Prep. Salad/Fruit/Coleslaw    568.2    1.9    222.9    -1.2    
Pudding/Mousse/Gelatin    517.9    -5.8    225.9    -6.5    
Appetizers, Snacks    429.5    10.6    67.8    9.1
Potato Side Dishes    279.9    5.3    101.8    4.4    
Soup    116.9    5.6    29.7    7.5
Side Dishes    93.4    -0.8    27.6    1.8

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Products address interest in marinades, ethnic flavors

Retail Meat & Poultry: The price is right

One of television’s best-known game shows, “The Price is Right” not only has been aired by all three major networks but has stayed on the airwaves – in one form or another – since 1956.

The latest version of the game features four contestants who bid on an initial product. The contestant who bids closest to the product's actual retail price – without going over – not only wins the item and but also gets to play one of several mini pricing games. One contestant that progresses could win a large showcase of prizes at the show’s conclusion.

Perhaps there’s no better theme – that of perceived value – for the retail prepared meat and poultry categories. In spite of a difficult retail market in which consumers are more price sensitive than before, retail suppliers of center-plate proteins (including poultry, beef, pork and seafood) have benefited from Americans seeking to economize by cooking and eating at home, says Packaged Facts, a New York, N.Y.-based market researcher.

As a result, dollar sales of dinner “center–plate” proteins gradually rose during the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, the firm says. In fact, Packaged Facts estimates sales of dinner center–plate proteins exceeded $5 billion in 2010. Sales were also strongest in 2010, when they rose 4 percent, a notch higher than the 3 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) registered during the period.

The sixth annual “Power of Meat” report agrees.

“After a number of years in which consumers implemented a variety of money saving measures at the meat case, the world of grocery shopping appears to be reaching a new balance, with net spending rising for the first time in three years,” wrote 210 Analytics, which prepared the report on behalf of the American Meat Institute (AMI) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

Study authors said that although some shoppers still spent less on groceries than they did a year ago, the share of shoppers who have made changes to their meat and poultry purchases as a result of the economy declined for the second year in a row, down from 51 percent in 2009 to 36 percent today. Overall, the share of shoppers who cut their total food spending (restaurant and grocery spending combined) compared to 12 months prior is down by 17 percent.

Observers now expect continued meat department gains with modest but steady growth forecast through 2015 – even as consumers begin their gradual return to dining out more frequently.

“We expect sales growth to continue at 4 percent annually for the next three years, benefiting from the strengthening economy but facing increased restaurant competition as that channel also reaps the rewards of U.S. consumers loosening their purse strings,” says Don Montuori, Packaged Facts publisher. “By 2014, sales will begin to moderate, with 3.5 percent annual growth in 2014 and 2015 bringing U.S. retail sales to slightly more than $6 billion.”

Topping each of the meat and poultry categories are private label products labeled with the store name and sold at supermarket butcher counters or pre-wrapped in the meat case. Grocers have been using private label protein products to draw in customers and create differentiation in a crowded retail marketplace. The fact that consumers have flocked to private label offerings more than they have to those marketed as “upscale” further signifies that this remains a tentative economy in which consumers are looking for value and are not as easily wooed by fanciness, notes Montuori.

Private label sales of center–plate meat garnered a 43 percent market share, more than triple the 12 percent category share maintained by Cargill, the leading national brand. With $571 million in 2010 sales, private–label fresh and frozen chicken controlled 28 percent of the center–plate poultry market, more than double the level of sales enjoyed by the category’s top marketer, Jennie–O.

The AMI-FMI study said chicken and beef continue to dominate the dinner plate. However, this year the survey noted a rise in heat-and-eat meats while the consumption of fresh meat remained flat. This is another indication of market recovery, with a shift from saving to convenience for at least some shoppers. Marinated meats also gained in popularity. This comes along with a growing general interest in spicier and more flavorful foods, especially as ethnic foods are going mainstream.

When it comes to healthy eating, respondents said they were most likely to cut back on portion sizes or second helpings, followed by choosing foods that are lower in sodium than their regular counterparts.

“Healthy eating in 2011 primarily focuses on portion control and minimizing sodium intake,” wrote 210 Analytics. “Additionally, shoppers scan for the fat content and calories, and are starting to focus a little more on what to include as opposed to what to avoid . . . While subtle, this shift could lead to growing interest among shoppers for manufacturers and retailers to tout the benefits of meat and poultry more clearly, such as protein, iron and low carbohydrates.”

AMI-FMI noted that the economy has been a real proving ground for organic and natural meat. While the category did not experience significant growth, it did not decline either. A steady one in five shoppers has purchased natural and/or organic meat or poultry in the past three months.

Close-up -Refrigerated, Frozen Poultry, Meat
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Poultry (not prepared)    1,998.1    3.7    398.6    3.2
Poultry (prepared)    1,757.3    -0.07    343.6    0.2
Fz. meat (no poultry)    1,363.7    2.0    328.4    -0.1

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Close-Up - Refrigerated Processed Meats
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Lunchmeat    3,494.0    2.0    1,221.8    -0.7
Breakfast meats    3,203.9    5.2    943.0    -6.8    
Dinner sausage    1,911.1    2.9    545.7    0.4
Hot dogs    1,688.9    0.5    720.9    -1.4

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Taking frozen fish into new snacking, appetizer waters.

Retail Frozen seafood: Pyramid scheme... to build sales

Debuting in 1973, “The $10,000 Pyramid” had a format to hook viewers. It featured two contestants – each paired with a celebrity. Players then worked together as one tried to guess a series of words or phrases based on descriptions given to them by their teammate. Teams worked their way through a game board with six categories arranged in a pyramid, triangular fashion.

Fast forward to January 2011. When it released its 2010 Dietary Guidelines with an updated “My Pyramid” program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended increased consumption of seafood and other healthy proteins. Meanwhile, you could say that both well-known “celebrity” seafood brands (such as Gorton’s, Mrs. Paul’s, SeaPak and Van de Kamp’s) appear to be working alongside relative newcomers to bolster overall category sales.

It’s going to take all hands on deck, so to speak. Just one month earlier, Mintel International’s U.S. seafood category study projected choppy waters ahead. Although the entire fish and seafood category generated almost $16 billion in total U.S. sales in 2010, Mintel said random weight, non-UPC coded items generated the majority of sales – so brand development remains a challenge. At the same time, the category is susceptible to economic factors as its biggest segment (fresh seafood) also is the most expensive.

Adding to the mix is the threat of natural and man-made disasters playing havoc with product supply, said Mintel.

“Last year saw continued economic woes combine with the BP Gulf Coast oil spill to create a perfect storm of challenges, the likes of which have not been seen for a number of years in the fish and seafood industry,” said observers.

To their credit, well-known brands and others have been busy to offer enhanced appeal for …

… health appeal. Pinnacle Foods responded to calorie- and portion-control trends with new 90-calorie fillets under the Mrs. Paul’s and Van de Kamp’s brands.

… value. Phillips Foods, Baltimore added Coastal Crab Cakes to its retail line. A two-pack of three-ounce crab cakes retails for just $4.99.

… restaurant-style entrees.Canned tuna giant StarKist Co. made its freezercase splash with StarKist SeaSations, including four frozen fish fillets and 10 frozen entrees. Beaver Street Fisheries, Jacksonville, Fla., also launched eight new Sea Best restaurant-style fish, shrimp, crab and clam items. Varieties range from Thai Chili Salmon to Tuscan-Style Shrimp. Joe’s Crab Shack, Houston, also partnered with Gourmet Express LLC on a four-item line of steamable seafood entrees meals for two.

… taste adventure.Tampa Maid Foods, Lakeland, Fla., launched Margaritaville Sea Salt and Pepper Shrimp, Plum Crazy Shrimp, Volcano Shrimp (stuffed with mild jalapenos and cheeses) and Captain’s Calamari Rings.

… versatility, snacking. Modeled after the brand’s best-selling shrimp product, SeaPak Shrimp Company introduced SeaPak Popcorn Fish, round, bite-sized morsels cut from whole, flaky Pollock fillets. SeaPak, St. Simons Island, Ga., says the product is a snack, appetizer or center-of-the-plate dish.

Close- Up - Frozen Seafood
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Shrimp    1,153.8    0.65    139.8    -0.21
Fish/seafood    1,088.9    5.1    203.3    2.1    
Total    2,242.7    2.7    343.1    1.17

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

New products tout healthy whole grain appeal.

Retail Bakery Foods:They bake to differ

As its name suggests, CBS’ popular “Family Feud” (originally ABC, 1976-1985) matches two families of contestants. The game features a trivia format where family members try to name the most popular responses to a survey question posted to 100 people.

Of course there was a time when many carb-conscious dieters stayed away from the entire bakery goods family. Yet that time is over, according to Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and market research publisher Packaged Facts. The firms recently co-sponsored a “Baked Goods: Culinary Trend Mapping Report.”

Kimberly Egan is CCD’s chief executive officer.

“Despite economic challenges, baked good sales have grown in the last few years,” she says. “Consumers continue to connect with affordable baked goodness for the comfort it delivers, a comfort experience that now comes in many more varieties, shapes and sizes to meet everyone’s needs.”
In fact, a look at the refrigerated and frozen categories finds members of the bakery family addressing divergent consumer interest in …

… bite-size upscale indulgence. Last summer saw General Mills launch Pillsbury Sweet Moments, a line of European-inspired refrigerated small portion desserts. Officials say the line represents an entirely new category in U.S. grocery stores. More recently, Germany’s Coppenrath Bakery (a U.S. subsidiary is based near Atlanta) introduced two frozen varieties of single-serve Mousse Duets (Chocolate, Lemon Chiffon) in Southeast markets. Each single-serve cup contains less than 300 calories and packages have two individual portions, officials say.

… health. Sister Schubert’s, Luverne, Ala., introduced frozen Multi-Grain Rolls made with 100-percent whole wheat and offering 29 grams of whole grains per serving. Positioned as an alternative to the traditional dinner roll, the products also are baked with oats, millet plus flax seeds and a touch of molasses for sweetness. They are free of trans fat, artificial flavors, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup. General Mills says new Pillsbury Simply… Buttermilk Biscuits and Simply… Rustic French Bread are quick meal solutions made only with flour, buttermilk and sugar. They contain zero grams trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup, and no artificial colors or flavors.

… artisan adventure.Pepperidge Farm, Norwalk, Conn., said it has replaced “dull dinner rolls” with new frozen Pepperidge Farm Stone Baked Artisan Rolls. Varieties include French and Multi-Grain. Elsewhere, garlic bread specialist Cole’s Quality Foods, Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., expanded its line with Cole’s Garlic Baquettes.

Close-Up - Refrigerated, Frozen Bakery Foods
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Rfg. Dough (all types)    1,295.6    -3.5    670.3    -2.2    
Fz. Bread/ Roll/Dough    695.2    0.28    251.1    0.35
Fz. Pies    464.5    -0.80    134.5    7.7
Rfg. Baked (no cheesecake)    266.0    17.4    84.9    10.6
Fz. Sweet Goods (no cheesecake)    193.3    -9.6    47.6    -11.9

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

New better-for-you blends with microwave convenience.

Retail Fruit & vegetables: Smart moves

Fox Broadcasting’s “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” tests adults on how much information they’ve retained since elementary school. Contestants progress (and can win up to $1 million) if they correctly answer questions from among 10 topics.

Of course, if the topic was nutrition – and the host asked about USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – how many adults would know the recommended daily intake for fruits and vegetables?

Most importantly, processors appear to be developing more convenient and flavorful offerings to make refrigerated and frozen fruit and vegetables more appealing for home meals and on-the-go snacking occasions. Likewise, fresh-cut salad processors appear to be advancing food safety.

Now are you ready for a pop quiz?

True or false: “Kale is a dark, leafy green.” 

Or how about this: “U.S. food processors are embracing what South American “super fruit?”

There’s no shortage of answers on store shelves. Having first introduced a frozen Acai unsweetened smoothie pack, Acai Roots, San Diego, came back this year with a Brazilian Style Energy Blend made with both Acai and Guarana fruits. Meanwhile, kale is one of several featured ingredients in a new private label line from Whole Foods Market. The Austin, Texas-based retailer is so excited about frozen vegetables that it came out with its own Health Starts line of eight blends. These unique varieties include Blue Curled Kale, Collard Greens, Beans & Greens and even Soup & Stew.

Or how about another unusual vegetable in a more popular form? Dominex LC, St. Augustine, Fla., positions its new frozen eggplant Veggie Fries as a crunchy, reduced sodium alternative to French fries or onion rings

Brand leaders also have been busy. Pinnacle Foods’ Birds Eye brand has introduced nearly a dozen microwaveable Steamfresh products during the past 12 months. These include three new lightly sauced items (some with pasta), three new rice and grain blends (including a Multi Grain with Spinach, Tomato & Onions) and five new standard varieties in microwaveable family-size portions.

Ready for another question: The Jolly Green Giant is a brand mascot for what company? The answer is General Mills, which launched four Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers with such unusual ingredients as Roma tomatoes, dried cranberries and golden cauliflower. Each variety contains three or more colors per blend and provides an excellent source of antioxidant Vitamins A & C, the company says.

And don’t put down the fork. Fresh-cut salads processor Ready Pac, Irwindale, Calif., introduced Ready Pac Salad Singles, a new four-item line that is both more economical (suggested retail of $2.99) and calorie-controlled (fewer than 200 calories per serving), the company says. Varieties include Garden Salad, Caesar Salad, Fiesta Salad, and Spinach Dijon Salad. All Salad Singles bowls include lettuce, toppings, dressing and a fork.

Consumers can find still more nutrition in the kitchen blender. That’s because at-home frozen smoothie kits are expanding in the retail freezercase. Yoplait yogurt processor General Mills added a Blueberry Pomegranate variety as its fourth entry to a Yoplait Frozen Smoothie line. Likewise, smoothie restaurant operator Jamba Juice Co. added its fourth smoothie kit variety, Caribbean Passion, this spring. Inventure Foods’ frozen fruit business, Rader Farms, produces the line.

Still more new offerings don’t require even a blender. Chiquita Brands International, Cincinnati, borrowed a play from its European business and introduced Crushed, a refrigerated crushed fruit drink “snack” made with Chiquita bananas and fruit. The line debuted in Chicago this June with varieties such as mango, strawberry, blueberry, pineapple or acai. 

Chiquita plays in even larger role in the fresh produce department. Its subsidiary, Fresh Express Inc., Salinas, Calif., is a $1 billion business that sells more than 60 varieties of pre-packaged ready-to-eat salads in more than 24,000 U.S. retail stores.

Recognizing that foodborne illness is a ever-present threat to the category, Fresh Express developed Fresh Rinse. Officials say independent studies at the National Center for Food Safety and Technology validate that Fresh Rinse “demonstrated superior effectiveness” in removing pathogens from wash water and from certain leafy greens compared to traditional chlorine washes.

Helping Fresh Express promote its new food safety step is Elizabeth Somer, a nationally recognized nutritionist and author.

Says Somer, “Because dark leafy greens are the most nutrient-packed foods available to us, a food safety breakthrough like Fresh Rinse used with convenient, ready-to-eat packaged salads will go a long way towards helping consumers increase their consumption through reinforced confidence.”

Brand    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
1    Fresh Express    1,033.6    -10.2    401.1    -10.2
2    Private label    711.3    26.3    252.4    30.1    
3    Dole    617.1    -5.1    275.3    -6.0
4    Earthbound Farm    140.9    3.4    34.7    4.9    
5    Ready Pac    123.9    0.1    40.7    2.0
Total Category**    2,792.9    1.6    1,064.5    0.9

*From previous 52-week period. **Includes results for brands not shown Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Close-Up - Fruit, Vegetables, Juice
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Rfg. juice    4,179.9    0.3    1,521.1    0.9
Fz. plain veg.    1,785.1    -1.6    1,092.7    -0.1    
Fz. fruit    376.2    3.3    112.7    3.8    
Fz. juice    356.1    -9.5    213.6    -12.1
Fz. prepared veg.    274.4    11.8    146.7    13.4
Fz. corn    109.9    -3.5    39.7    -2.9

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

Helathier hummus, Greek yogurt dips replace traditional spreads.

Retail dips & spreads: Spreads find a voice

One of many new TV reality formats, NBC’s “The Voice” has three stages of competition.

During blind auditions, celebrity musician coaches make decisions solely on voice and not on looks, says NBC. Coaches hear contestants perform, but they don't get to see them - thanks to rotating chairs. If a coach is impressed by a contestant's voice, he/she pushes a button to select the contestant. At this point, the coach’s chair will swivel to face the contestant selected. If more than one coach selects the talent, the power shifts to the contestant, who may choose which coach they want to work with throughout the competition.

Once the teams are set, the battle is on. Coaches develop their singers, give them advice, and share the secrets of their success. During “battle rounds,” coaches will pit two of their own team members against each other to sing the same song together in front of a studio audience. After the vocal face-off, the coach must choose which singers will advance.

Observers could argue that refrigerated spreads and dips are finding their voice among category sales leaders. For example, SymphonyIRI Group reports that the $450 million-plus refrigerated spreads category – including hummus – posted dollar sales and unit volume gains of 19.7 percent and 20.5 percent respectively during a 52-week tracking period in mid February.

That growth ledRFFRetailer(RFFR), a publication serving retail department officials, to review the category in greater detail.

Marcia Schurer, president of Culinary Connections, Chicago, told RFFR, “The Mediterranean diet is considered a healthier diet. And foods from regions that border the Mediterranean Sea usually have a great taste profile that appeals to most consumers.”

Schurer says growing interest in hummus has had processor suppliers developing more new flavors. Meanwhile, these companies and others also are formulating new dips and spreads including tzatziki and baba ghanouj. Consumers are increasingly using these spreads and dips on sandwiches and other products – instead of mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup, she says.

Sabra Dipping Company LLC, White Plains, N.Y., already offers 10 types of hummus. It plans to roll out additional hummus flavors (including a Basil Pesto), salsa products, guacamole and Greek yogurt veggie dips, the company told RFFR. Meanwhile, Cedar’s Mediterranean, Ward Hill, Mass., will come this summer with an Edamame hummus, an Avocado hummus and a new Probiotic hummus.

Elsewhere, refrigerated salad dressings processor T. Marzetti Co. also has borrowed on yogurt category trends. The Columbus, Ohio, company developed a line of Marzetti Otria Greek yogurt veggie dips, each omega-3 and just 60 calories per serving, the company says. Five varieties include Chipolte Cheese, Cucumber Dill, Garden Herb Ranch, Salsa Cilantro and Spinach Artichoke.

Mary Beth Cowardin, Marzetti’s senior marketing manager for produce dips, told RFFR, “Peoples’ perceptions of dips are shifting. The products are being seen as not only a party platter option but also as an everyday snack. Consumers are eating small meals more frequently throughout the day and veggies with dip or hummus is perceived as a health and wellness alternative.”

Close-up -  Dips, Spreads
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Rfg. spreads    468.1    19.7    141.2    20.5
Rfg dips    458.8    1.4    184.2    0.4
Fz. dips    13.4    -13.9    4.3    -10.9

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20, 2011.

SymphonyIRI honored Chobani among last year’s top 10 best-selling new products.

Retail Dairy Foods: All Greek to me

Need a game show idea? TV producers often scout and convert some of the best overseas programs for U.S. audiences. Comedian and actor Drew Carey became a popular host for “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” a take-off on Britain’s improv show of the same name. Today, viewers may not realize that ABC’s “Wipeout,” (an obstacle course contest) comes from Takeshi’s Castle, which aired in Japan from 1986 to 1989.

One of the dairy category’s biggest success stories also involves an import: Greek yogurt. In fact, its extraordinary growth warranted a special in-depth review by The Nielsen Company, which tracks prepackaged, UPC-coded products in U.S. food, drug and mass merchandisers (including Wal-Mart).

“What [consumers] see in Greek yogurt is a filling, high-protein, low-fat, low-carbohydrate food that helps them attain better health and better diet control. So credit consumer pull for the segment’s health surge,” wrote Nielsen. “… Greek yogurt is carving out a bigger space for itself, even as the entire refrigerated yogurt category makes gains.”

Although its data results are slightly different, SymphonyIRI Group, Chicago, provides a similar healthy picture of refrigerated yogurt sales during a 52-week period ended February 20, 2011 (see chart). Meanwhile, the Chicago-based market researcher shows essentially flat dollar and unit sales in milk and natural cheese; and a sales drop for ice cream but gains for frozen novelties.

What’s happening elsewhere? Briefly, here’s the latest scoop of trends in …

… milk. Milk processors have had their hands full, writes Jim Carper, editor for BNP Media’s Dairy Foods magazine. When they weren’t defending milk’s nutritional value, they were watching retailers mark down their product. Or, they were trying to defend against non-dairy drinks that are making competitive health claims. Meanwhile, new product activity has lagged as industry leaders – such as Dean Foods, Dallas – have focused on operations costs or ancillary products such as coffee creamers or plant-based milk alternatives.

… cheese.Consumers prefer natural cheese in its various forms (sliced, shredded, sticks, etc.) Processors are multiplying options with low-fat, all natural, better-for-you offerings – often with zesty and/or exotic flavors and new packaging. Kraft Foods launched bold-flavored cheeses such as Single Melt Downs Pizza Flavored Cheese and Deli Deluxe Bacon Cheddar Slices. Kraft helps snackers watch their waistlines with new 100-Calorie Packs Cheese Bites. A single package contains five single-serve bags of cheese bites. Still more healthy options tout sodium reduction.

… ice cream.Private label brands dominate. Yet it’s still a discretionary category for consumers. Processors are caught between a rock and hard place while trying to raise prices (or shrink cartons) to cover cost fluctuations and increases in cream, sugar and cocoa ingredients. So what sells? SymphonyIRI Group data show dollar and unit sales gains for frozen yogurts. Processors are emphasizing healthier, natural ingredients and fewer preservatives. New offerings often favor bold, interesting flavors – with or without inclusions.

… frozen novelties.Consumers are still satisfying a sweet tooth with ice cream, frozen yogurt and fruit bar products that offer portion and calorie control and/or better-for-you benefits. Dreyer’s, Oakland, Calif., notes that it has developed more than 30 new entries in this field alone. Its latest include DREYER’S and EDY’S Fruit Bars brand made with real Super fruit – Pomegranate and Açai Blueberry. Both products are an excellent source of Vitamin C and have other antioxidants.

Close-up - Refrigerated, Frozen Dairy Categories
Category    Dollar Sales (millions $)    Dollar Sales % Change*    Unit Sales (millions)    Unit Sales % Change*
Milk    10,426.8    3.75    3,956.7    -1.89
Nat. Cheese    7,376.1    1.11    2,444.2    0.27
Yogurt    4,137.9    8.34    3,979.6    4.84
Ice Cream    4,038.3    -3.86    1,239.5    -3.76
Novelties    2,690.5    3.38    918.9    5.95

*From previous 52-week period. Source: SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Total US FDMx (Supermarkets, Drugstores and Mass Market retailers excluding Wal-Mart, club stores and gas/c-stores), 52-week period ending Feb. 20,