ConAgra’s frozen food pipeline ‘very, very full’

by Monica Watrous
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BOCA RATON, FLA. — From breakfast sandwiches to dessert pies, ConAgra Foods, Inc.’s frozen food pipeline spans day parts and demographics.

“We believe with the consumer demand for economical, nutritious, convenient and great-tasting food, the frozen food aisles are poised for a growth resurgence,” said Andre Hawaux, president of consumer foods for the Omaha-based company, at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference taking place this week in Boca Raton.

Leveraging technology innovations and building on strong brands define ConAgra’s approach to growing its frozen food business in the coming year.

“Our baked-from-the-microwave innovation platform is a great demonstration of our progress and commitment to the frozen category,” Mr. Hawaux said, citing the success of Healthy Choice baked entrees and Marie Callender’s Bakes, which doubled net sales in fiscal 2013.

Acquiring Bertolli and P.F. Chang’s frozen meal lines from Unilever in August boosted ConAgra’s premium offerings.

“We plan to leverage these brands in combination with our technology platforms, such as baked-from-the-microwave, to deliver new products that we believe rival any prepared meal you would buy,” Mr. Hawaux said.

Such products include single-serve and dual-serve dinners, such as manicotti with vodka sauce, and Bertolli desserts, including tiramisu, triple-chocolate strata and limoncello.

“These dessert innovations help us expand across a variety of day parts as well as demographics,” Mr. Hawaux said.

Expanding frozen dessert products has proved a key strategy for ConAgra, who has built the largest and fastest-growing dessert pie portfolio in the supermarket with Marie Callender’s dessert pies, said Mr. Hawaux.

“Frozen dessert pies are more than $450 million at retail, growing 5% over the last two years,” Mr. Hawaux said. “So, a high-growth category.”

The morning meal represents another potential growth opportunity for ConAgra, said Mr. Hawaux.

“The frozen breakfast category has increased almost 30% over the last five years,” he said. “Now leveraging the capabilities we gained with the purchase of Odom’s Tennessee Pride, we are expanding our presence in the fast-growing breakfast category. Building off of Odom’s technology and strong regional business base, we are using national brands like Marie Callender’s and Banquet to introduce new products and take advantage of that trend. You’ll see us get very, very big in breakfast sandwiches in fiscal 2014.”

In frozen snacks, Banquet sliders and frozen sweet potato products are on tap.

“I can assure you that our pipeline is very, very full,” Mr. Hawaux said. “And you’ll see us bringing a lot of innovation in frozen, as we continue to do over the next several years.”
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