REV it up!

by Bryan Salvage
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Hormel has expanded its line of REV wraps to 12 varieties.

“Originate, don’t imitate.” This phrase was coined by George A. Hormel, founder of Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn. For more than a century, the company has honored his edict by introducing many new, value-added products ranging from its iconic Hormel Chili to constantly expanding varieties of SPAM to Hormel Compleats microwave meals, just to mention a few.

If he could see the company’s latest new product – Hormel REV wraps – being produced at Hormel’s flagship 1.1 million-sq.-ft. Austin plant, he’d be proud…but not surprised, muses Tim Fritz, Austin plant manager. “I would like to think this is exactly what he intended [developing truly unique new products] when he started his company,” he adds.

Launched nationwide in eight varieties in July 2013 and sold in supermarket meat cases, Hormel REV wraps are made with slices of cheese and meat that are rolled inside of either a white or Italian Herb wrap and packed in single-serve packages. The line has now expanded to 12 varieties. This convenient snack food requires no assembly or preparation, but can be warmed in a microwave in seconds.

Varieties include Pepperoni Pizza; (plus a three-pack of Pepperoni Pizza); Ham and Cheese; Peppered Turkey; Italian Style Ham; Hot Pepper Ham; Italian Style; Spicy Italian Style; Three-Meat Pizza; Ham and Swiss; Turkey and Cheese; Ham, Pepperoni and Mozzarella; and Turkey, Ham and Cheese.

“We are in the process of launching four more new REV wraps that are bold flavors in line with what millenials and teens crave – Buffalo Chicken, Turkey Bacon Ranch, Bacon Club and Jalapeño Pepperoni,” says Holly Drennan, Hormel Foods Director of Marketing, Meat Products Division.

This product line was designed for teens who snack throughout the day. Each wrap contains at least 15 grams of protein. Hormel Foods states that with 83 percent of teenagers participating in at least one extracurricular activity, moms value protein-packed snacks that can fuel their kids throughout the day with long-lasting energy and satiate hunger. These products are offered at a suggested retail price of $1.99-$2.39 individually and $5.49-$5.99 for packages of three.

“With snacking now known as the fourth meal occasion, the launch of Hormel REV wraps continues our efforts to bring a unique and convenient meat-based protein into this fast-growing category,” Steven Venenga, Hormel Foods’ vice president of meat products marketing, said at the time of the launch.

“REV wraps are ready-to-eat,” Drennan adds. “You can microwave these products, but we’re finding most consumers are eating them cold. To bring real meat and real cheese into the snacking world and in the form of a more versatile, portable sandwich is really exciting. The package fits right in your hand. It fits vertically right on the retailers’ shelves.”

Birth of an idea

According to Drennan, “The Hormel new-products team was looking at our total product portfolio and company CEO Jeffrey Ettinger recognized an opportunity to align our portfolio more closely with portable foods for the snacking world as meals become less prevalent and people eat more throughout the day. There was a huge cross-functional Hormel Foods team involved in creating this new product, including scientists, marketers, innovation people…and ultimately lots of research with consumers…even our local Austin High School students helped participate in this product’s development plus helped us come up with the brand name.”

During market tests, Hormel uncovered its target audience for REV wraps wanted a product they could hold and eat in one hand. It took REV wraps approximately three years from conception to launch last July.

Squeezing another new production line into the expansive-but-crowded Austin plant was another challenge in rolling out the new product line. Hormel operations officials and engineers had to sharpen their pencils to find space for another footprint. “Essentially, they built a plant within a plant,” Drennan says.

Innovative processing

Hormel’s unique REV wraps operation is located in the dry-sausage area of the Austin plant in an area previously used to store packaging. To build the REV wraps operation, a wall separating two rooms was removed and a second-floor mezzanine for packaging was built over the ready-to-eat processing area – the latter of which is an allergen area since it makes products containing bread and cheese.

“Working with your own engineering/R&D group is special because they know exactly what we’re after.” — Tim Fritz, Austin plant manager

REV’s processing area is protected throughout with stainless-steel walls and shielding around stanchions. Floor drains were added since the area previously wasn’t wash-down ready. Approximately 30 percent of the REV wraps production room’s processing equipment was designed and built by Hormel Foods’ in-house engineering development experts based in Hayward, Minn.

“Our engineering/R&D group works exclusively on internal Hormel projects,” Fritz says. “We’ll go to them with ideas and say, ‘We have a new product idea, but we have to find a way to make and package them.’ This group had to develop innovative ideas to automate this process, which is pretty automated. Working with your own engineering/R&D group is special because they know exactly what we’re after.”

After the REV wraps are produced using proprietary technology, line workers then ensure each wrap is shingled straight and correctly, manually rolling them and putting them in one of the three caddies (six-pack trays).

Next, product is vacuum-packed and tray-sealed using an ergonomic assist to help lift and load heavy rolls of film. The refrigerated product is packed into a microwaveable, clear, molded, hard plastic, tubular base package, which is flat at both ends. On the underside of the package one end is also flat, which allows the package to rest horizontally to remove the contents. The top of the plastic package is flat, which allows a flexible film to vacuum seal the product. The top of this easy-open film contains four-color graphics and the recyclable packaging allows product to stand up vertically on shelves.

Once sealed, product heads up to the second-floor mezzanine packaging area via conveyor for labeling, code dating and to be packed two six-packs of product per box. From there, a conveyor moves the boxes of finished REV wraps downstairs for final shipping.

“We added more than 100 jobs to work in this REV operation,” says Joe Muzik, superintendent of dry sausage, who oversees the REV wraps operation. Other key players in this operation include Brandon Koehler, supervisor of dry sausage; Greg Brand, supervisor of the REV dept.; Lauren Hilton, industrial engineer; and Joanne Gerlach, who manages the new tray-sealer operation.

Moving fast

In October 2012, appropriations were approved to build a REV operation inside the Austin plant. Feb. 25, 2013 was the target start date for start-up production in the new space. “We had only five months to make this happen,” Fritz says. “I’m not going to tell you I was never nervous. But I felt, ‘We can do this. We’ve got the team in place that can make this happen.’

REV wrap customers are excited about the incremental dollar sales the product line is bringing into the lunch-meat category.

“This is Joe Muzik’s area and he and his team, Brandon and his group, did a fantastic job in working with the sales group to get the quality specs we needed by working with quality control,” he adds. “We were also working with our maintenance function as the REV operation equipment got installed and with the Engineering/R&D Group. Equipment manufacturers were also here because we’re using some new equipment never used before by our company. And we worked with packaging supply companies because these are new films and caddies we’ve never used before. The trays themselves are new to the market.”

The biggest challenge was taking something that was a mere concept five months earlier and then having an R&D team build a good chunk of that equipment that has never been run before, Muzik says. “This is a product area we’ve never run before – we had a very short period of time to execute.”

REV supervisors weren’t done after they successfully hit the Feb. 25 start-date target. “Marketing was out there making commitments to customers that this new product is coming,” Fritz explains. “We had already shown REV wraps to all our big customers – and nobody turned us down thanks primarily to our sales and marketing team. But the heat wasn’t off. We had a number of production-capacity targets that had to be achieved throughout the year. We started with the one line on Feb. 25; we had the second line running in May. The upstairs packaging area was up near Labor Day [2013].

“I’m proud to say we achieved every target date,” he continues. “It required solid teamwork.”

All involved with the REV wraps launch are very excited about initial sales results. “We’ve been in the market for not quite a year and sales continue to outpace our expectations,” Drennan says. “This marks one of the largest new product launches in Hormel’s history.”

As for REV wrap customers, they are excited about the incremental dollar sales this new product line is bringing into the lunch-meat category. “From a consumer perspective, they love how portable the product is and they love the protein benefit. They love how universal it is. Hormel Foods is so excited to be the first to market – by almost a year – in leading the way to portable protein snacking that is truly universal food,” Drennan adds.

Hormel REV wraps awareness is being driven through a multi-media advertising campaign created by BBDO Proximity Minn. The multi-channel plan was developed by PHD Minneapolis and includes television, print and social media.

Looking ahead

REV’s management team has learned this product line is seasonal and that summer is its busiest season. “While we are having no issues in early May hitting the numbers we need to hit, the forecast for later June and July is… business will increase,” Fritz says. “We’re at capacity [serving retail customers] through the summer.”

Fritz adds he wouldn’t be surprised if Hormel R&D is already looking at further REV product diversification. If demand keeps increasing, will the REV operation undergo another brick-and-mortar expansion and renovation project to meet growing demand – or move processing to another Hormel plant?

“We’ll figure that out when the time comes,” Fritz says.

“That’s a good problem to have,” Muzik adds with a grin.

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