Restaurant brands on the move

by Allison Sebolt
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A trip to the grocery store in some ways may seem like going out to eat, as the shelves and freezer cases are lined with California Pizza Kitchen pizzas, burgers from White Castle and meals from Boston Market among other food service chains.

Burger King Corp., Miami, recently announced it has launched microwavable french fries through ConAgra Lamb Weston, Omaha, Neb., in varieties such as seasoned crinkle-cut fries, extra-large fries, and seasoned potato wedges.

“Burger King Corp.’s tremendous brand strength and reputation for great-tasting french fries give this new line of King retail fries a head start in the marketplace,” said Sharon Miller, vice-president of retail sales for ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston. “Now consumers can enjoy King fries at home in an easy-to-prepare, microwavable format that’s perfect for today’s busy families.”

John Schaufelberger, senior vice-president of global product marketing and innovation at Burger King, said retail programs such as the microwavable fries broaden consumer exposure to Burger King and provide them with new ways to interact and connect with the brand. He said the fries capitalize on their brand strength and reputation. He also said Burger King trusted ConAgra as a leading packaged food company to further expand the brand in the retail market.

“The line of microwavable fries offers the ease of microwave cooking while maintaining the delicious taste and texture of crispy fries at home,” Mr. Schaufelberger said. “They also appeal to consumers’ need for convenience with portable packaging that is reminiscent of Burger King Corp.’s signature FRYPOD container, making it perfect for an on-the-go snack or sharing.”

Bob Evans Farms, Columbus, Ohio, recently

introduced single-serve special recipe macaroni and cheese and original mashed potatoes to its line of side dishes available at retail. While Bob Evans has an extensive line of retail products, some of its other products introduced recently include Bob Evans Naturally! Sausage and Bob Evans Macaroni and Cheese as well as sides of creamed sweet corn and homestyle broccoli and cheese. The company said its original food product is the Bob Evans Sausage, and due to consumer response, it has introduced new items such as brats, Italian grilling sausage and frozen oatmeal.

California Pizza Kitchen, Los Angeles, has a successful presence in the grocery freezer aisle with various frozen pizzas offered through Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. Columbus, Ohio-based White Castle, meanwhile, offers its “slider” burgers in the grocery freezer aisle as well.

Starbucks Coffee Co., Seattle, offers various products in retail now, including coffee-flavored ice cream. In addition, Starbucks and Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo, Inc. have a longtime partnership to offer ready-to-drink products in retail.

Bob Goldin, executive vice-president at Technomic, said the concept of food service companies offering retail products is not new, but freezer items through such partnerships have been successful. In these licensing arrangements, he said the food service company typically partners with a retail food company with the retail manufacturer producing the product and paying the food service company a

royalty from the profits.

For the restaurant company, it is a way to expand the brand at a relatively low-cost because the cost of market entry is on the shoulders of the retail marketer, he noted.

When a food service company considers going in to retail, Mr. Goldin said it needs to consider that retail shelves are crowded. With this in mind, a partner with some muscle and retail wherewithal is needed. He also said efforts should be focused on the positive attributes of the brand, an endeavor that requires marketing dollars.

ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, offers the Marie Callender’s brand on various frozen pot pies, frozen single-serve dinners and family-serve meals. In addition, ConAgra also recently introduced Marie Callender’s shelf-stable Home-Style Creations in varieties such as traditional stuffing and turkey, classic stroganoff, garlic herb chicken, sweet sesame beef, meatball lasagna and creamy parmesan chicken.

“With new Marie Callender’s Home-Style Creations, consumers can treat themselves with an authentic, home-style meal that’s ready in minutes straight from their desks,” said Laura Flanagan, vice-president and general manager for ConAgra. “The meals offer a delicious, everyday lunchtime option for busy, working professionals craving that special touch of home during the day.”

H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, is also in on the trend, offering various T.G.I. Friday’s appetizers and snacks, including quesadillas, buffalo popcorn chicken, buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks. The company also provides retail snacks, including various types of chips and skillet meals such as chicken and broccoli alfredo and sizzling chicken fajitas.

“T.G.I. Friday’s Skillet Meals offer the convenience of a frozen entree with the full flavor and robust taste of a Friday’s meal,” said Erica Gilbertson, associate brand manager for Heinz. “The main ingredients are individually packaged so they stay fresh and can be cooked to perfection, allowing the chicken to brown, the veggies to stay firm and the pasta to be done al dente. Plus with unique toppers, such as sesame seeds and bacon bits, you can add as much pizzazz as you like for that one-of-a-kind T.G.I. Friday’s meal experience.”

"(These products) provide a significant benefit for consumers and for the companies that sell them -- they have a built-in sense of familiarity which helps to ensure that the product will 'work' for consumers," said Lynn Dornblaser, new products analyst at Mintel. "If they are manufactured right, they will provide that restaurant experience at home and will deliver on the expectations consumers have of them. They are smart for the restaurant chain as well. As consumers may be cutting back on their restaurant dining, these retail products will keep the restaurant in front of consumers' minds until they are ready to go back out to eat."

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