It’s one of many changes underway to improve Chicago-based Conagra Brands’ frozen foods performance, a $2.9 billion business that includes such brands as Marie Callender’s, Healthy Choice and PF Chang’s.
|Sean Connolly, president and CEO of Conagra Brands|
Conagra is the third-largest frozen producer in North America, and single-serve meals represent the biggest part of the business, Connolly said.
“What I love about our frozen portfolio is we have highly differentiated brands that compete to very different need states within the frozen space,” Connolly said during a Sept. 5 presentation at the Barclays Global Consumer Staples Conference in Boston.
In the past year, retail sales of Conagra’s frozen single-serve meals fell 2.5 percent, according to data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. But recent efforts are taking hold. Sales in the past 13 weeks increased 4.8 percent, and sales in the past five weeks advanced 7.8 percent, Connolly said.
A recent addition to the Healthy Choice product line is the Power Bowls range, featuring globally inspired flavors and recognizable ingredients packaged in a proprietary plant-based serving bowl.
“Why does that matter? Because some consumers don’t want to put plastic in a microwave so we’ve got this fantastic new bowl that avoids that barrier to purchase,” Connolly said.
“What we do here is smart swaps, so we’ll take a turkey meatball instead of a beef meatball,” he said. “We take sweet potato fries instead of mashed potato and gravy. Still very comforting, but it gives access to those consumers with particular constraints.”
The company also is expanding in the “premium multiethnic cuisine” segment, Connolly said.
“And this is our record for speed to market. In the old days, this would take us 1.5 years. This product took us a matter of months, so you get a sense of agility that you’re starting to see at Conagra.”
Beyond product renovation and innovation, Conagra Brands is rebalancing its frozen portfolio to “have less reliance on value with Banquet,” Connolly said.
The company also is pursuing additional opportunities for frozen innovation. Slated to debut in the coming quarters are Marie Callender’s frozen loaf cakes, Alexia riced cauliflower, and a new brand called Wicked Kitchen.
“It is hand-holdable, bold flavors,” Connolly said. “These are going into targeted geographies as we speak.”