Nestle whittled down the ingredient list in Stouffer's lasagna withmeat ans sauce to 15 from 19. 

SOLON, Ohio — Most consumers don’t have autolyzed yeast extract or carrageenan in their kitchen cupboards, so Nestle USA decided to eliminate those ingredients from Stouffer’s frozen lasagna. The brand recently announced plans to shorten and simplify its recipes as part of its “Kitchen Cupboard” commitment, which will eventually involve the more than 140 products in Stouffer’s portfolio, said Tom Moe, director of marketing for the Stouffer’s brand.

Tom Moe
Tom Moe, director of marketing for the Stouffer's brand 

“Kitchen Cupboard for us is providing ingredients that you would find in your own kitchen cupboard — ingredients that are recognizable and easy to read — in a recipe that is short and sweet,” Moe told Food Business News, a sister publication to MEAT+POULTRY. “That’s what consumers are asking for, but they’re asking for it in a way that Stouffer’s has always done it, which is with a great taste and great value.”

Nestle whittled down the ingredient list in Stouffer’s lasagna with meat and sauce to 15 from 19 by removing autolyzed yeast extract,  carrageenan, dextrose and bleached wheat flour. The reformulated products are rolling out nationwide.

“We talked to consumers extensively about which ingredients they feel are ones they are uncomfortable with or have a wrong perception,” Moe said. “All of the ingredients we used before the transition were all safe ingredients, but we’re trying to respond to this consumer ask…. When you say ‘autolyzed yeast extract,’ it doesn’t resonate like a kitchen cupboard ingredient would, and we’re taking a harder stance on what actually goes into our recipes.”

By the end of this year, all other Stouffer’s lasagna varieties — a total of 23 — will feature simpler recipes.

The effort has taken two to three years, as the company evaluated the portfolio and began testing recipes. By the end of this year, all other Stouffer’s lasagna varieties — a total of 23 — will feature simpler recipes.

“We spent a lot of time working on various recipes and sharing those with our most loyal fans and getting a reaction to how we were doing and delivering on the taste, and we nailed it,” Moe said.

The primary challenge in reformulating the lasagna was maintaining the same taste profile the brand’s consumers have come to expect, Moe said.

“There’s an umami note these ingredients bring, and so we had to solve for that by introducing other ingredients to help balance that,” he said. “It was more of an optimization in terms of taking these out and refining the ingredients we had already in the product. It was more of a simplification.

“One ingredient that we use to help balance out the umami was a soy flavoring. That’s something you’d find in your kitchen cupboard, and it helps bring forward an umami flavor, which was an expectation from the consumer.”

Nestle's R.&D. is dedicated to improving every aspect of Nestle’s frozen and chilled foods businesses.
Photo courtesy of Nestle

Underscoring a commitment to the frozen meals category, which has struggled in recent years amid changing consumer preferences, Nestle invested $50 million to open a dedicated research and development center in Solon last year. The 144,000-sq.-ft. facility is dedicated to improving every aspect of Nestle’s frozen and chilled foods businesses, which also include Hot Pockets sandwiches; Nestle Toll House cookies; Buitoni pasta; Jack’s, DiGiorno, California Pizza Kitchen and Tombstone pizzas; and Lean Cuisine entrees.

To keep pace with current trends, Nestle has unveiled a series of changes across its stable of frozen brands. Initiatives last year include the removal of artificial flavors and reduction in sodium in frozen pizza and snacks, and a reboot of the Lean Cuisine brand with a new focus on chef-inspired, ethnic dishes rather than diet fare. Other recent product introductions are gluten-free, high-protein or made with organic ingredients.

The Stouffer’s brand, which traces its roots back 90 years, beginning as a family restaurant in Ohio, has “fared fairly well” through the frozen category’s challenges, Moe said.

“We’ve shown some growth over the last year and a half on the business, and I think that’s due to the fact that we’ve been really consistent in the recipes we’ve provided and the trust that’s been established over the last 90 years,” he said. “Some of the other brands didn’t have the same goodwill that we have with consumers.”

Nestle's Stouffer's line features a variety of frozen offerings.

Among its scope of frozen offerings are macaroni and cheese in various sizes and flavors and comfort food-inspired entrees such as meatloaf, beef pot roast and baked ziti. The brand also recently introduced Stouffer’s Fit Kitchen, a line of high-protein meals, including oven-roasted chicken, rotisserie seasoned turkey and steak fajita.

To highlight the recipe changes, Stouffer’s is planning a major marketing push across television, on-line and print media.

The messaging? “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”