Flavoré Advances the Category
by Joshua Lipsky,
Smithfield Foods aims to bring culinary arts to retail with its launch of it new Flavoré line.
The refrigerated heat-and-serve entrée landscape has remained relatively unchanged since the category’s launch back in the 1990s. There are your requisite pot roasts, meat loafs, and pork cutlets — all touting convenience and value, but few (if any) touting flavor, some category critics claim.
Well, those days are over.
Buffalo Grove, IL-based Smithfield Innovation Group (SiG) is in the midst of the nationwide rollout of its Flavoré line of refrigerated heat-and-eat entrées. All eight SKUs in the line have been prepared with taste as the primary driver as Flavoré boldly attempts to reposition refrigerated heat-and-eat entrées as a destination within the supermarket.
“The category [refrigerated heat-and-eat entrées] is populated with ‘meat brands’ and their branded products, so you have companies relying on their name to move products, which generally aren’t very appealing” explains Kim Barden, retail brand manager for Smithfield Foods. “Consequently, there hasn’t been any passion within this category. Consumers haven’t had a real reason to shop for these products. Flavoré is an attitude. It is a flavorful way of eating and living. These products bring home an upscale, enhanced dining experience — but no tips required.”
SiG has been developing the Flavoré line since the end of 2003 when three Smithfield brands, Smithfield, RMH, and Morrell, united to form Smithfield’s Culinary Foods Group. The mission of the new group was to establish a retail brand that would lure consumers to the meat case who hadn’t yet committed to trying a heat-and-serve product yet. These products are designed to be more than an “unwrap, heat, and eat” entrée. The products feature proteins and sauces in one bag, a starch side in another bag, and a separate garnish pouch. By separating the components and allowing consumers to heat and then prepare and present the entrées themselves, Flavoré brings a more complete meal experience to consumers and distances itself from traditional value-based heat-and-eat offerings.
“The category of refrigerated meat entrées has over-promised and under- delivered on the consumer's expectations in terms of quality and value since it's inception,” says Mark Willes, vice president of sales and marketing for SiG. “Many consumers have tried this category only to be disappointed with their dining experience, and as a result they have not come back for repeat purchases. We believe that if we can stimulate that first trial occasion, we can get the consumer to return for additional purchases. Why? We believe that Flavoré delivers on the promise of a true culinary dinning experience with the convenience and value that the consumer is searching for. Having said that, it is our goal to create a ‘destination category’ within the retail case that will attract more consumers and generate multiple sales.”
Seven new recipes
With that goal in mind, SiG created seven new recipes. For this, they turned to Chef Michael Brando, a certified master chef, who as a member of the Chef d’ Cuisine, Catering Executive Club of America, and the American Culinary Foundation, has gained recognition as a highly regarded authority in product and menu development.
Brando believes that the majority of refrigerated heat-and-eat entrée manufacturers have short-sold consumers thinking that the value of the product can disguise the simplicity of its meat/vegetable/starch equation. However, aided by The Food Network, consumers are becoming educated about flavors and food preparation, and they are demanding that their food evolve with their tastes.
“People used to dine at a restaurant and they would order white wine. They then evolved and ordered Chablis, which evolved to Chardonnay, and now those people who used to order white wine are ordering a Northern California vintage bottle of Pinot Griggio,” Brando explains. “This is the Flavoré customer. As the consumers’ palates grow so does their demand for original foods. Just because a product is pre-cooked doesn’t mean that it can’t be original or exciting.”
Comparing Flavoré to eating at a restaurant is not coincidental, as the prevailing thought throughout SiG is bringing foodservice mentality to retail. Foodservice has served as the source of product innovation because manufacturers generally do not have the capital to pioneer at retail and retailers do not have the time to invest in new, unproven concepts. Flavoré solves both problems by taking base products and aiming them to new directions so retailers have innovative new products that aren’t so radically different that consumers are too intimidated to try them.
“We wanted to take retail meatloaf where it has never been taken before,” says Brando. “We decided to pair it with cheese. But not cheese that has been blended with chemicals, [but instead] real products with real ingredients.
“So we had our meatloaf, and we knew we wanted to use a real cheese. Looking at how progressive consumers have become, we decided to use authentic Asiago cheese,” Brando adds. “Ten years ago, nobody had even heard of Asiago cheese!”
The use of innovative ingredients underscores SiG’s goal of consumer education through the Flavoré line.
“Educating the consumer is a huge priority for the Flavoré line,” says Scott Witzig, marketing director for SiG. “Education breeds trust, and when consumers trust your product that increases the probability that they will choose your product.”
In its attempt to educate consumers, SiG has turned to its packaging to serve as a source of product and preparation information. While microwaves are the most popular and convenient source of heat-and-eat entrée preparation, Flavoré packages feature alternative preparation techniques (in addition to microwave instructions) so diners can heat the meals in either the oven or on the stove. By offering multiple preparation methods, consumers feel as though they have greater input on how the entrée is prepared, and Flavoré positions itself as a culinary-first heat-and-eat product instead of a “nuke it and plate it” typical offering.
The Flavoré box offers more than just heating directions. There are also wine recommendations and side-dish suggestions. On the box, Chef Brando recommends that the Island Grill Chicken in Caribbean-Style Sauce with Rice be accompanied by either melon wedges, tropical fruit salad, or fresh, chunked pineapple, while the dish should be served with a “Gewürztraminer, a dry white wine, the perfect compliment to poultry dishes.”
“It isn’t just the food, it’s the experience,” relays Barden. “We’re not just selling beef and sauce, we are trying to revolutionize how consumers perceive the [heat-and-eat entrée] category.”
Customized retailer solutions
Not only is SiG revolutionizing the category’s mentality and perception, but it is also reinventing the supplier/retailer relationship.
“Not only are we taking the Flavoré experience to consumers but we are also taking the experience to retailers,” says Jon Rocke, president of Smithfield RMH Foods Group. “Not only are we evolving the category, we’re also evolving how we do business with retailers. The days of being just about products and price are over.”
SiG sends representatives to retailers armed with a supply of Flavoré products that are prepared for retail employees. The mission is to excite retailers about this category and translate retail employee excitement into consumer purchases.
“Retailers are not used to being approached in this way,” explains Rocke. “We’ve had many retailers who weren’t interested initially because they were hesitant to move forward with ‘another stale [heat-and-eat entrée] offering’; however, they were sold on our products because we came to them and gave them a taste of the Flavoré experience.”
Amid tepid sales and uninspiring offerings, more than a couple of prognosticators deemed the refrigerated heat-and-eat entrée category as mature and dying. SiG and its Flavoré line are proving that not only is this category still maturing, but it is evolving. NP