New flavors and formats add variety to the category.


On NBC’s reality TV show, “America’s Got Talent” regular people show off their skills for a panel of celebrity judges. The judges then select the best comedians, singers, dancers, ventriloquists, etc., to move on to the next round where they will vie for the $1 million grand prize and their very own Las Vegas headlining gig.

Although they can’t sing, act or make you laugh (per se) - hand-held foods feature their own unique talents and compete for (consumers’) attention. Among these “talents” is the ability to meet consumers’ long list of convenience food demands: portability, healthier ingredients, innovative flavors and fast prep time.

This year saw a freezercase filled with new handheld options boasting these attributes - and overall category growth. Information Resources Inc. (IRI), Chicago, reports dollar and unit volume sales were up 3.5 percent and 0.2 percent respectively for the 52-week period ended December 30, 2007.

“Let’s face it. Eating on the run is entrenched in our culture. Now, hand-held food is expanding to new flavor and form horizons, offering a host of ideas to excite consumers and build new businesses,” said Kimberly Egan, CEO of the Center for Culinary Development (CCD). CCD teamed with Packaged Facts, New York, for Hand-Held Foods: Culinary Trend Mapping Report, a study completed earlier this year.

The study found the following trends already taking place in the growing hand-held food category: multi-culturism, including Chinese, Indian and Latin American flavors; fresh and wholesome varieties made with ingredients such as cucumber, corn and avocado; premium twists to the familiar, sliders made with premium beef or lamb and unique specialty sauces and cheeses.

Category leader, Nestlé Prepared Foods, Solon, Ohio, expanded its handheld offerings this January by adding a new variety, Spinach Artichoke Chicken, to its line up of more than 20 Lean Pocket varieties. The handheld giant counts Hot Pockets, Croissant Pockets, stuffed subs, calzones and several Stouffer’s and Lean Cuisine offerings among its handheld products.

Last November saw Nestlé launch a whole grain version of its Lean Pockets. Nine varieties of Lean Pockets Made with Whole Grain each have 16 grams or more of whole grains and 7 grams of fat or less, Nestlé says.

Another on-the-go alternative, new this year, is Hillshire Farms Deli Wraps from Sara Lee Foods, Downers Grove, Ill. These chilled kits deliver all the ingredients needed to make a wrap on-the-go - tortillas, meat, cheese and sauce. Varieties include stand-bys (Turkey & Bacon Club) and slightly more exotic (Southwestern Chicken).

Also expanding in the sandwich kit category this year is Kraft Foods, Northfield, Ill., whose new Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Flatbread Sandwich kits joined the brand’s Sub Sandwich Kits on retail shelves. Here too, the kits are chilled and include deli meats, specialty sauces, natural cheeses and a flatbread.

Meanwhile, The Schwan Food Co., Marshall, Minn., has taken its Red Baron brand into the handheld category with Red Baron Singles French Bread Paninis.

“They’re great for snacks or as a meal,” says Jim Keane, senior director, Snack and Single Serve. Keane adds that the Panini come in four varieties.