The votes are in for Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ 2016 Readers’ Choice Best New Retail Products contest. Congratulations to ConAgra Foods, Chicago, for placing fifth with a total of 1,566 votes for its Simply Café Steamers frozen meals.

Marina Mayer, editor-in-chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods and the creator of the Readers’ Choice Best New Retail Products contest, talked exclusively with Alan Brooks, associate brand manager, to discuss more in-depth about the contest, the “winning” product and what’s in store for the future.


Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: First off, congratulations on placing fifth in Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ Top 5 Best New Retail Products contest. What does this recognition mean to you, your company, your products and your consumers?

Alan Brooks: We’re thrilled to not only have been nominated, but to [also] have placed in the Top 5.We’re constantly listening to our consumers, and strive to provide new options that excite them and satisfy their needs.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: Your new retail product—Simply Café Steamers—was nominated by Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ editor-in-chief Marina Mayer. What features does this new product hold that would allow it to even be nominated?

Brooks: The Healthy Choice Simply varieties are an extension of the brand’s Café Steamers line, [what are said to be] the first and only meals that feature a special steaming basket to unlock freshness you can see and taste. With 10 varieties, Simply Café Steamers are made with all-natural protein and no artificial ingredients, and offer various natural proteins, low-carb options and unique flavor combinations.

Our consumers are always looking for healthy yet delicious meal options, and they’re showing a growing interest in foods with real, simpler ingredients. Simply Café Steamers deliver the taste, texture and flavor benefits of steaming, along with 100% natural protein, and absolutely no artificial ingredients.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: How did you go about accruing so many votes? What was your plan?

Brooks: We shared the good news of being nominated with our employees using our internal social media tool, and encouraged them to vote. We also highlighted our nomination on the front page of our company portal throughout the duration of the contest period.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: What goes into developing a new product?

Brooks: A lot goes into developing new meal options. We lean heavily on our culinary team and take inspiration from the restaurant world.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: Any unique features to the product’s packaging?

Brooks: The Simply varieties are part of the brand’s Café Steamers line, [what are said to be] the first and only meals featuring a tray-in-tray steam cooking method that separates ingredients during heating to unlocks freshness you can see and taste. The magic of steam transforms simple ingredients into vibrant and crisp vegetables, juicy 100% natural proteins and perfectly cooked grains in just five minutes or less.

Refrigerated & Frozen Foods: What is on the horizon for your company?

Brooks: We’re re-making ConAgra into a focused, higher-margin, more contemporary and higher-performing company.

ConAgra is focused on further strengthening our consumer and foodservice portfolios, driving innovation and ensuring strong insights lead to relevant and timely products with the right marketing support.

We are committed to building stronger brands, enhancing margins and delivering more consistent results.

As for the brand specifically, Healthy Choice is expanding the Healthy Choice Simply Café Steamers line to include four delicious meals made with USDA-certified organic ingredients.

Developed by chefs in ConAgra’s kitchen in Omaha, Neb., the recipes are a reflection of current food trends—bold, ethnic flavors are found in the Sweet & Spicy Asian Style Noodle Bowl and Unwrapped Burrito Bowl, and the Creamy Spinach & Tomato Linguini and Three Cheese Tortellini meals mirror the comfort food craze. 

Like other recipes in the Healthy Choice Simply Café Steamers line, the new options with organic ingredients feature a unique steaming basket and are 100% natural with nothing artificial. The meals with organic ingredients began rolling out this spring, and will reach full national distribution by July. Pricing is consistent with the other Healthy Choice Simply Café Steamers recipes, so Healthy Choice eaters don’t have to pay premium prices to eat organic ingredients.