BOCA RATON, FLA. — The H.J. Heinz Co. plans to introduce such frozen food items as mini burgers, sweet potato fries and skillet meals, said Bill Johnson, chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Heinz, in a Feb. 17 presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference in Boca Raton.
“Sales in the frozen entree category, despite what anybody says to you, are terrible,” Mr. Johnson said. “They continue to be adversely affected in this recession, as we predicted at CAGNY last year. The consumer has not responded to aggressive promotion activity.
“We continue to believe that long-term innovation is the key to this category, and we intend to be well-positioned when the economy improves.”
Mr. Johnson also touched on international expansion with ketchup and infant formula and a continued reduction of stock-keeping units (s.k.u.s). Heinz, based on expected third-quarter results, raised its full-year, earnings-per-share outlook to $2.82 to $2.85 per share from $2.72 to $2.82 per share.
On March 1, Heinz will launch Weight Watchers Smart Ones items, including Anytime Selections mini burgers and chicken wraps.
“The launch of mini burgers, or sliders, has tested particularly well, and we are enthused about their potential,” Mr. Johnson said. “In fact, we are so enthused we are also including sliders under the Friday’s line to help that business.”
The sweet potato fries will be sold under the Ore-Ida brand. Consumer demand for value sizes sparked another Ore-Ida launch, a 4-lb package of french fries.
“With the continued success of Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash and the launch of sweet potato fries — and increasing marketing to further enhance the brand’s equity — we expect the business to continue to benefit from increased at-home consumption trends,” Mr. Johnson said.
Other Heinz launches include new snacks and skillet meals in the T.G.I. Friday’s line, new Boston Market casseroles, a 44-oz value size of Classico and a new thick Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.
While introducing new products, Heinz still has managed to reduce s.k.u.s by more than 40% over the past two years. Heinz is launching an assortment initiative to help its customers understand the benefits of s.k.u. reduction.
“We believe assortment simplification represents a $25 billion opportunity for retailers to increase sales velocity, reduce inventory carrying costs and lower in-store operating expenses,” Mr. Johnson said.
Internationally, the company will seek to increase Heinz ketchup penetration in Mexico and such European countries as Sweden, Germany and France.
The company plans to launch Heinz infant formula in Russia and China. The company will give more details on infant formula at an analysts’ day in May, Mr. Johnson said.
“We know exactly the cities we’re going,” he said. “We know exactly how many cities we are going to.”