Off the Shelf

With fresh meal kits rapidly catch­ing on, man­u­fac­tur­ers has­ten to re­mind con­sumers of con­ve­nient, in­ex­pen­sive cen­ter store al­ter­na­tives.

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Contents - By Brid­get Gold­schmidt

No doubt about it: Meal kits are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity. From their be­gin­nings as items or­dered over the in­ter­net and de­liv­ered to con­sumers’ doorsteps, they’ve mi­grated to gro­cery store shelves, with re­tail­ers such as Kroger and Publix of­fer­ing their own ver­sions. Mak­ers of cer­tain shelf­stable prod­ucts, how­ever, want shop­pers to know that there are other ways to whip up a meal with a min­i­mum of fuss.

“The abil­ity to stock up, and to keep prod­uct on hand for a quick week­night meal, is a need that isn’t go­ing away, and meals with brief shelf lives sim­ply can’t help with that,” points out Mike Siemienas, spokesman for Min­neapo­lis-based Gen­eral Mills, maker of the Helper lines of pack­aged meals that per­haps col­lec­tively rep­re­sent the grand­daddy of shelf-sta­ble meal solution con­cepts, to which a pro­tein such as beef, chicken or tuna is de­signed to be added. “Ham­burger Helper and other boxed din­ners of­fer con­sis­tency and con­ve­nience that busy fam­i­lies have come to rely on.”

The com­pany con­tin­ues to im­prove its Helper and Sud­denly Salad of­fer­ings, ac­cord­ing to Siemienas, by “now us­ing 100 per­cent real cheese in our Helper cheese va­ri­eties, for in­stance, and all of our topselling Helper prod­ucts are free of ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors and col­ors from ar­ti­fi­cial sources. Mov­ing for­ward, we will con­tinue to in­tro­duce new fla­vors and sizes to ap­peal to a broader range of con­sumers.” Gen­eral Mills has also upped its price pro­mo­tion spend­ing and is work­ing with re­tail­ers “to plan more ro­bust dis­play and on-pack of­fer­ings,” he says, adding, “We’ve also fo­cused more on so­cial me­dia and ex­pe­ri­en­tial mar­ket­ing to bet­ter reach the Mil­len­nial con­sumers, who are in­creas­ingly at­tracted to the re­li­able fla­vor and con­ve­nience of brands like Helper.”

Keep­ing it Sim­ple

“Many of our Camp­bell shelf-sta­ble meal so­lu­tions are de­signed for con­ve­nience, sim­plic­ity and ease, while fresh meal kits may re­quire more en­gage­ment with prep, a greater time com­mit­ment, and can vary in serv­ing size and in­vest­ment,” notes Re­becca Pool­man, se­nior mar­ket­ing man­ager, U.S. re­tail, meals and sauces at the Camp­bell Soup Co., based in Cam­den, N.J. The com­pany knows some­thing about the meal-kit space, hav­ing re­cently “en­tered a strate­gic part­ner­ship with Chef’d, which al­lows us to part­ner on fresh meal kits and test and learn with an ex­pe­ri­enced on­line meal part­ner,” as Pool­man puts it.

That doesn’t mean that Camp­bell has given up on shelf-sta­ble meal op­tions, how­ever — far from it. The com­pany in­tro­duced 11 va­ri­eties of Ready Meals for the Prego, Pace and Camp­bell’s brands in 2016, and launched Or­ganic Spaghet­tios this past Au­gust, while its “on-la­bel Prego recipes of­fer ad­di­tional in­spi­ra­tion and con­ve­nience when cre­at­ing a fam­i­lyfriendly meal by clearly lay­ing out what’s re­quired [in] in­gre­di­ents and time,” says Pool­man.

“Our meal so­lu­tions are cre­ated to make things as sim­ple as pos­si­ble for our con­sumers when they’re try­ing to plan for the din­ner oc­ca­sion, and we’ve tried to use a sim­i­lar ap­proach with our mer­chan­dis­ing,” she con­tin­ues. “To aid our cus­tomers (re­tail­ers), we’ve cre­ated a video that pro­vides high-level de­tail from our con­sumer re­search and high­lights meal solution op­tions across our en­tire prod­uct port­fo­lio that con­sumers can ac­cess through a va­ri­ety of ways.”

Mak­ing a move sim­i­lar to Prego’s is Fort Worth, Texas-based Ren­fro Foods, whose sal­sas, in­clud­ing such spe­cialty fla­vors as Craft Beer, “come with easyto-use recipes on the la­bel [and] add value to healthy meal prepa­ra­tion, serv­ing as a fla­vor booster and sav­ing con­sumers time and money,” ac­cord­ing to Pres­i­dent Doug Ren­fro. He adds that the com­pany “has been us­ing coupon ma­chines, smart­phone coupon apps and, more re­cently, shelf talk­ers, as well as an email blast to about 500,000 in the North­east” to help sell its prod­uct line.

Bold Cus­tomiza­tion

In common with most of its CPG coun­ter­parts, Chicago-based Kraft Heinz has delved into the pre­vail­ing “macrotrends” to un­der­stand what con­sumers re­quire of meal so­lu­tions. As a re­sult of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the com­pany’s head of meals, Jes­sica Gil­bert­son ob­serves that “one in­sight we know is that con­sumers are ea­ger to cre­ate a delicious meal for them­selves, but have a de­mand for more con­ve­nience. We can focus both cur­rent port­fo­lio po­si­tion­ing and fu­ture in­no­va­tions to ex­cite the con­sumer around how our cat­e­gory can play into this need. One ex­am­ple would be a solution that al­lows con­sumers to cus­tomize their meal at dif­fer­ent lev­els, pro­vid­ing them the op­tion to add more, while also giv­ing them the chance to cre­ate some­thing quickly.”

The abil­ity to stock up, and to keep prod­uct on hand for a quick week­night meal, is a need that isn’t go­ing away, and meals with brief shelf lives sim­ply can’t help with that. — Mike Siemienas Gen­eral Mills

Last Fe­bru­ary, Kraft Heinz launched within its Cracker Bar­rel brand port­fo­lio the Cracker Bar­rel Oven Baked prod­uct line, which Gil­bert­son be­lieves “can lead in driv­ing such trends within the shelf­stable cat­e­gory.” Fea­tur­ing hearty mac­a­roni crafted to hold the bold Cracker Bar­rel cheese sauce, the item al­lows home cooks to “cus­tomize the ex­pe­ri­ence by adding our cus­tom spice mix, plac­ing the dish in the oven and bak­ing the pan to per­fec­tion be­fore fin­ish­ing it off with crispy, crunchy bread­crumbs.”

When it came to mer­chan­dis­ing, the com­pany opted to be just as bold. “The first strat­egy we im­ple­mented was to cre­ate pack­ag­ing that was truly dis­rup­tive on shelf,” ex­plains Gil­bert­son. “We chose to put the pasta and all of the in­gre­di­ents in a film bag, com­pared to tra­di­tional boxes typ­i­cally found in the cat­e­gory. While that al­lowed the prod­uct to pop on shelf, we needed to en­sure con­sumers’ con­tin­ued in­ter­est in the shelf-sta­ble meal aisle. To do this, we uti­lized shelf talk­ers to catch shop­pers’ eye when they were in store, and coupon­ing to drive trial.”

Eat on the Go

An­other im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion is that it’s not just about the din­ner oc­ca­sion: Cen­ter store meals can go any­where and be eaten any­time. “Shelf-sta­ble meal so­lu­tions like our Quinoa Meals are con­ve­nient be­cause you don’t have to worry about re­frig­er­a­tion,” says Laila Bane­jad, direc­tor of me­dia re­la­tions at Rich­mond, Calif.-based Cucina & Amore. “You can keep it in your desk at work or in your pantry, and

eat it when it’s most con­ve­nient for you, rather than sec­ond-guess­ing … whether or not it’s still good to eat.” This au­tumn, the brand is adding three va­ri­eties of Farro Meals, fea­tur­ing a com­bi­na­tion of cooked farro and red and white quinoa, to its lineup. Bane­jad of­fers the opin­ion that “shelf-sta­ble meal so­lu­tions can com­pete by of­fer­ing healthy, all-nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents that taste delicious with­out ex­tra preser­va­tives and un­nec­es­sary ad­di­tives, and by [be­ing] af­ford­able.” In fact, de­spite the ris­ing preva­lence of fresh meal kits at ecom­merce and now in su­per­mar­kets, man­u­fac­tur­ers are op­ti­mistic about fur­ther de­mand for non­per­ish­able op­tions. Gen­eral Mills’ Siemienas says that “by con­tin­u­ing to find ways to of­fer easy din­ners at an af­ford­able price, shelf-sta­ble meals will stay rel­e­vant for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” and Kraft Heinz’s Gil­bert­son notes, “While we rec­og­nize that kitchens are evolv­ing, [there] will al­ways be a place for shelf-sta­ble meal so­lu­tions with a va­ri­ety of house­holds and con­sumers.”.

Con­sumers are ea­ger to cre­ate a delicious meal for them­selves, but have a de­mand for more con­ve­nience. — Jes­sica Gil­bert­son Kraft Heinz

WHAT’S FOR DIN­NER Camp­bell pro­vides easy recipes for its Swan­son and Prego brands.

SAM­PLE SALES Cucina & Amore spurs trial of its shelf­stable meal so­lu­tions by hold­ing in-store prod­uct tast­ings.

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