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Cool economy heats up microwavable meal sales

BY Barbara White-Sax

With consumers looking to save money by eating dinner at home or grabbing lunch at their desks, sales of microwavable meals are expected to grow. The downturn in the economy already has had an impact on how frequently consumers are visiting restaurants for dinner.

A recent poll by NPD Group found that nearly 12 percent of lunchtime meals were brought from home last year, up from 11.3 percent in 2007, and an all-time high since 2001. Those polled said cost saving was their primary motivation for packing their lunch.

Packaged meals that can be easily prepared and eaten in their containers are especially appealing to office workers looking to grab a quick, inexpensive lunch.

Dollar sales of microwavable package dinners increased more than 22 percent in supermarkets, drug stores and mass outlets (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 10, according to Information Resources Inc.

IRI data showed Hormel Foods Hormel Compleats in the lead, with a 36 percent dollar-share of the category.

Competitors are positioning their brands as healthful choices as well. Hormel recently extended Hormel Compleats to include six healthful SKUs that contain fewer than 320 calories and less than 10 grams of fat. Compleats healthy line, which is branded with green packaging to set it apart from the rest of the line, will hit store shelves in spring 2009.

Hormel Foods, which was included on Information Resources 2007-2008 New Product Pacesetters Rising Stars list of projected top 10 food and beverage brands, has tripled in sales in the past three years making it the fastest-growing product in the company’s grocery division.

General Mills also is beefing up its quick-meal offerings with premium line extensions to its Bowl Appetit! brand and additions to its Hamburger Helper Microwave Singles brand.

Ramen noodles also are a key segment in the quick-lunch category. IRI data show dollar sales ahead 8 percent for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 10, in all three channels with Maruchan in the lead, with double-digit dollar sales increases on its ramen noodles.

The drug channel, which has significant lunch hour foot traffic, has done very well with these categories. “In the last few years, we’ve seen the number of items on drug store shelves jump from two to six, on average,” said Brett Asay, product manager of Hormel Compleats.

The drug channel has been very promotional in the category, often running deals on multiple purchases. CVS recently used an endcap to feature a Simply Asia’s rice noodle soup bowl variety four-pack priced for $3.99.

Safeway is heavily promoting noodle lunches, including Nissin Souper Meals, Chow Mein and Chow Pasta products at four for $5, while Maruchan Yakisoba Japanese-style noodles were priced five for $5. Maruchan six-pack instant noodle lunches were being promoted at two for $6.

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Natural/organic food shoppers using coupons more often to cut spending

BY Melissa Valliant

COLLINGSHEAD, N.J. A survey of 1,080 natural and organic consumers showed that nine in 10 are using more coupons in order to reduce their spending.

Mambo Sprouts Marketing conducted the study during the Dow Jones’ 700-point drop in September, and its results found that 99 percent were using an average of six to nine coupons weekly, spending $75-$99 per week on groceries and saving about $8 each grocery visit.  

Seventy percent frequently redeem coupons, and most obtain their coupons from in-store programs, newspapers and through the mail. Three in four used online printable coupons, while one in 10 used cell phone coupons.

Sixty-two percent regularly tried new brands or products with coupons, and 61 percent planned their grocery shopping around coupons. The survey found that more than half of these consumers would take advantage of more coupons if they were more available for natural and organic brands, rather than conventional ones.

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Starburst promotes new GummiBurst candy with cross-country van tour

BY Melissa Valliant

MCLEAN, Va. Starburst will be traveling to colleges and universities around the country in order to promote its new GummiBurst brand. Beginning this week and ending in December, a GummiBurst Garage Band van will arrive at campuses and invite students to play Microsoft Xbox’s popular Garage Band game on the van’s stage. They will be displayed on four large plasma screens and will be given faux concert GummiBurst T-shirts.

“We know our target audience is interested in music and gaming, so we’re really trying to tap into those interests to generate a buzz about the new product,” said Kim DeMartino, managing director of Catapult Marketing, which created the idea of the tour and is executing it.

The candy brand plans to distribute almost 600,000 free samples of its new sweet on the cross-country tour. The visits will be preceded by a poster campaign, so students can anticipate the van’s arrival.

The van’s trip begins in Boston and ends in Charlotte, N.C., in December. The cities visited in the tour include New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Antonio, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego.

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