Conagra making 'modern food' for a 'modern era'

by Monica Watrous
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Conagra Brands frozen - Healthy Choice, Banquet, Marie Callendar's
Conagra's Banquet, Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice brands have been updated in recent months to include a more premium look and feel.
 

NEW YORK — Conagra Brands, Inc. competes in three segments of the packaged food marketplace: meals, snacks and enhancers. A major overhaul is planned or under way for each business, said Sean M. Connolly, president and chief executive officer.

Sean Connolly, ConAgra
Sean M. Connolly, president and c.e.o. of Conagra Brands

“We are in the midst of massively transforming our portfolio,” Mr. Connolly said during a Nov. 14 presentation at the Morgan Stanley Global Consumer & Retail Conference in New York.

The company’s approach of developing products with “modern food attributes” already is taking shape in the freezer case, where the bulk of Conagra’s meal business lives. Brands including Banquet, Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice have been updated in recent months to include a more premium look and feel — at a more premium price point.

“When we think about millennials shopping in frozen, the notion of them wanting to buy a meal at 88c doesn’t compute because their latte costs $4.37,” Mr. Connolly said. “We think there are years to go in terms of driving frozen and continuing to innovate frozen.”

Sean Connolly Conagra Brands pull quote
 

Snacks, he added, “is probably the next big frontier for us.”

“We’re just getting started on snacks,” he said. “In fact, we’ve done some innovation on brands like David Seeds, which seed behavior is big; it’s growing. Meat snacks is big. We’ve done a tremendous amount of work renovating and innovating Slim Jim.

“But we’ve also had significant M.&A. in snacks, bringing in our most recent addition, Angie’s Boomchickapop, which if you haven’t tried it, is a fantastic popcorn brand.”

In the enhancers portfolio, Conagra’s Reddi-wip brand is launching vegan, non-dairy varieties made with almond milk and coconut milk, Mr. Connolly said.

Conagra Brands snacks - Angie's Boomchickapop, Slim Jim, David Seeds
Conagra is focusing on its snack brands, which include Angie's Boomchickapop, Slim Jim and David Seeds.
 

“But we also have businesses in that domain that are more cash contributors, and we call them reliable contributors,” he said of enhancers. “The goal isn’t necessarily to turn them into growth engines. They’re high-margin, high-cash flow businesses. We need to keep them healthy and stable and reliably contributing.

“So, it’s a mix, but I would tell you that we are really excited about the innovation slate we’ve got out there now. But our mantra back at the home office is ‘what’s next’ because we know next year has got to be even bigger and the year after that is going to be bigger than that. So, our foot is squarely on the gas when it comes to innovation.”

Like many of its industry peers, Conagra Brands is positioning itself to win in e-commerce, what Mr. Connolly referred to as and “a small, but exploding area for all big food companies.”

Conagra Brands Reddi-Wip vegan
Conagra’s Reddi-wip brand is launching vegan, non-dairy varieties made with almond milk and coconut milk.
 

“Clearly, e-commerce is a huge opportunity for us, and there will be a direct-to-consumer piece; there already is,” he said. “There will be a click-and-collect piece. We don’t know exactly what the relative proportion of each will be, but we are aggressively pursuing both.”

He added, “What we’ve got to do as kind of a food company that’s been around for a long time is make sure that our products are presenting themselves properly on-line. …

“This is actually modern-day marketing. This is how you market brands in today’s day and age, very different from running a TV commercial on ‘American Idol.’ And you would be surprised; a lot of food companies that have brands that have been around for a long time, they don’t have necessarily historically those legacy brands up to shape, up in shape, so to speak, for on-line commerce.

“All of that is moving at a lightning pace, making sure that the legacy portfolio is presented properly in a modern way and marketed properly. So it’s an area where we’re all over it, we’ve got great relationships with our customers, and I think it’s only going to get better from here.” 
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