CHICAGO — Pork rinds and pickle chips are among new products set to launch from Conagra Brands, Inc. as the Chicago-based company seeks to bolster its $2 billion snack business by expanding into new segments. With a portfolio of brands that includes Orville Redenbacher's, Duke’s, Duncan Hines and Angie’s Boomchickapop, the company is identifying opportunities to innovate in “neglected coves,” or “big category segments that are growing at a very robust rate,” said Thomas M. McGough, co-chief operating officer and executive vice-president.
An example is fries, a $377 million category growing 8% over the past year.
“Everybody loves fries, and we’re going to attack this three ways,” Mr. McGough said during the company’s investor day on April 10. “First, with Slim Jim Fire Fries, big, bold, spicy with the iconic Slim Jim snap.”
The product, which features flavored potato snacks in buffalo style and “inferno” varieties, contains no meat. Bigs, the sunflower seeds brand, also is launching a fries product with nacho cheese and ranch flavors. And Andy Capp’s, another Conagra brand, will launch Hot Munchies baked corn and potato snacks, Mr. McGough said, adding the Andy Capp’s brand is “growing like a weed.”
Pork rinds, a $539 million category, grew 16% over the past year, Mr. McGough said.
“They’re a perfect snack; they’re high in protein, low in carbs,” he said. “We’re firing it up with the spicy Slim Jim flavor, so people can now crunch into a Slim Jim.”
Slim Jim Fried Pork Rinds will be available in “squealin’ hot” and “hog wild barbecue” flavors.
Shelf-stable and refrigerated pickles are a $1.1 billion category, growing 6% over the past year, Mr. McGough said.
“Pickles has always been a flavor that people have loved in snacks, whether it’s potato chips or even in our Bigs Vlasic dill sunflower seeds,” he said. “But pickles themselves are a great snack, essentially no calories or carbs. But eating pickles out of a conventional jar is inconvenient and messy, and pickle snacks are actually becoming a thing, particularly in c-stores. So we’ve created Vlasic single-serve pickle slices and also a Vlasic vacuum-fried pickle chips that taste absolutely fantastic.”
Winning in snacking requires a different playbook than traditional grocery or frozen foods, Mr. McGough said.
“It requires agile innovation, novelty and experimentation, winning at the point of purchase with the right price/pack architecture and disruptive displays and having the deep channel intimacy to increase distribution everywhere snacks are sold,” he said.
Although Conagra doesn’t compete in the large-scale categories of chips, cookies and candy, the company has strategically and “somewhat under the radar” built a large snacking business with leading brands and strong innovation and go-to-market capabilities.
“Since our last Investor Day, we have been infusing the snacking DNA into our business,” Mr. McGough said. “In addition, our acquisitions not only brought excellent brands but great founders that have taught our teams to operate differently.”
In the latest quarter, Conagra’s snack sales grew nearly 8%, or 14% on a two-year basis, with growth across the entire snacking portfolio, he said.
“As much as we’ve done, we are just getting started,” he said. “Our categories are supported by strong underlying consumer trends, namely all things protein, plant-based nutrition and what we call ‘permissible indulgence.’”
Conagra is diving deeper into plant-based snacking with new formats for its Bigs and David seeds businesses.
“These brands, when reframed as protein-based or plant-based snacks, opens up a massive $13 billion category,” Mr. McGough said. “And we recognize that not everybody eats shell-on sunflower seeds, so we’ve created new forms. Have you ever wondered why traditional trail mixes are marketed as better for you but they have so much sugar? We don’t think they should. So our new David energy-packed seed mixes are high-protein, low in sugar and they are perfect for the paleo and keto lifestyle. And our new David energy-packed clusters combine seeds with fruit for high-protein, nutrient-dense, poppable snacks.”
For brands to grow, they must evolve out of their legacy formats, he added. An example is Duncan Hines, historically a boxed cake mix brand, which will introduce new on-the-go single-serve cake cups packaged with toppings such as Oreo cookie pieces or unicorn-themed cookies and pudding.
“Many of our snacking brands were treated as center-of-the-store commodities, and they were locked in their legacy format, and that was particularly true of Snack Pack, Swiss Miss and Duncan Hines,” Mr. McGough said. “But when you reframe these three brands as sweet treats, you open up a massive demand space.”