Grow With the Flow
New products, packaging to keep snacks, side dishes growing — no matter what.
There wasn’t a declarative statement. However, The NPD Group’s recent 19th Annual Report on Eating Patterns in America didn’t mince words when it referred to snack, appetizer, and side-dish consumption.
In an early October 2004 release, NPD relays that Americans are modifying their eating habits. They are becoming more calorie conscious and getting their weight under control. Meanwhile, NPD adds that the number of snack meals eaten per person per year was 250 for the year ending February 2004, little changed from five years ago when it was 253. Elsewhere, NPD declares: “The side dish is disappearing from the American dinner table. Forty-five percent of dinners did not include a side dish, the highest level since 1990.”
NPD says its annual report tracks the daily consumption habits of hundreds of thousands of consumers. NPD also compiles information from more than 40 NPD databases involving consumers, manufacturers, retailers, and restaurant operators. The company’s latest report is based on 12 months of research ending in February 2004.
“It appears that Americans are beginning to find a balance between the need for convenient, inexpensive meals and their expanding waistlines,” says Harry Balzer, NPD Group vice president. “It makes sense that people are finding a balance as we try to get control of our weight in this country.”
A question of balance
Is NPD’s picture balanced in regard to snack, appetizer, and side-dish consumption? Perhaps. InfoScan data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 8, 2004, also shows flat results across seven related categories. Although the largest sector, frozen appetizers and snacks, posted a 2 percent dollar sales gain to reach $845 million, unit sales slipped by 1 percent. Another processed food contender, refrigerated side dishes, posted a 1.7 percent sales gain to reach $403.9 million, while its unit volume also slipped 2.1 percent.
So what’s the solution? Processors appear to be approaching the problem in two ways. First, many would like to see the category’s facings expand.
“Growth for hot snacks will depend on our feeding the pipeline with new shoppers,” notes Martin Abrams. Abrams, marketing manager for General Mills’ Totino’s Pizza Rolls brand, encourages retailers to provide more display opportunities for frozen snacks, particularly around key times such as back to school, the Super Bowl, or casual parties.
“We also see a few regions of the country — the West, Northwest and Northeast — where the frozen snack category is smaller than in other parts,” he adds. “With the right SKUs in the freezer case, we think retailers in those regions could see the same kinds of sales volume that the rest of the country gets with the larger section.”
That said, Minneapolis, MN-based General Mills has been busy. Category leader Totino’s extended its snack-roll line with Sandwich Rolls and Mexican Rolls. Staying with the Mexican-style theme, Ruiz Foods Inc., Dinuba, CA,  expanded distribution of El Monterey Cruncheros to the Midwest and East. The Schwan Food Co., Marshall, MN, added a Mexican variety to its Red Baron stuffed pizza slices line. And Pittsburgh, PA-based H.J. Heinz Co.’s Delimex brand has been in a repackaging mode.
Specialty Brands Inc. also has been reformulating and repackaging its José Ole line. And while the Ontario, CA-based company expands to convenience store and vending channels, it is offering new flavors such as Spicy Beef and Cheddar Mexi-Minis Mini Chimichangas, and a Fire Grilled Fiesta pack of Chicken & Cheese Stuffed Mini Quesadillas.
“Consumer expectations have continued to rise [regarding flavor],” says Specialty Brands’ Steve Bratspies, senior vice president of marketing. “We’ve seen that the speed with which consumer taste preferences are changing has accelerated in recent years. They are becoming more adventurous, more sophisticated with regard to ethnic flavors, and less sensitive to increased heat levels.”
Report courtesy of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods magazine.