LAS VEGAS — If you don’t know what “Hot AF” means, grab the nearest millennial and ask. It’s the name of a new Slim Jim meat stick from Conagra Brands, Inc. — and pretty edgy language for a leading consumer packaged goods brand, said Burke E. Raine, the company’s vice-president and general manager of snacks and sweet treats.
“If you think about how younger folks talk… we’ve hit an insight around this spicy, bold flavor profile,” Mr. Raine said. “We’re really proud of it.”
The product was among a full slate of snacking innovation unveiled for the convenience and fuel retailing industry at the 2018 NACS Show, held Oct. 7-10 in Las Vegas. The maker of Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn and Snack Pack pudding has adopted an agile, insights-driven approach to product development, Mr. Raine said.
“Overall at Conagra, we’ve got a renewed focus on innovation and on snacking in general,” Mr. Raine said in a phone interview prior to the NACS Show. “We’ve got an almost $2 billion portfolio in snacks and sweet treats, and we’ve got renewed energy around it now.”
“I have worked for many years at a variety of different snacking companies, and this is the most excited I’ve ever been about a portfolio of brands and products." — Burke Raine, Conagra Brands
Mr. Raine, who previously held senior marketing roles at Hostess Brands, Diamond Foods and Frito-Lay, joined Chicago-based Conagra Brands less than six months ago.
“I have worked for many years at a variety of different snacking companies, and this is the most excited I’ve ever been about a portfolio of brands and products,” he said. “When we look at how Conagra is performing in the market versus the categories within which we compete, we continue to outpace our categories, and we’re picking up market share.”
Within the past two years, Conagra has padded its snacking portfolio by acquiring a handful of premium brands, including Angie’s Boomchickapop popcorn, Duke’s meat snacks and BIGS seeds, while updating legacy businesses with “culturally relevant” innovation, Mr. Raine said.
For example, he said, “We’ve made a lot of progress in bringing modern contemporary attributes to the Orville Redenbacher’s brand… we have no artificial preservatives, no artificial flavors or dyes, 100% whole grain, and it’s a gluten-free item. We’ve done quite a bit of work to help keep Orville Redenbacher’s relevant and modern with positive attributes.”
The company’s approach to innovation includes “being open to new ideas and possibilities across brands within our portfolio,” he added.
“Having a more brand-agnostic approach to innovation can be really powerful for us because it ensures that the product we’re making is being true to the consumer insights and not necessarily fitting within a brand’s guardrails that may lead to a suboptimized proposition,” he said. “Having the opportunity to launch a new brand is something we’re open to. We’re in an enviable position in that we have a lot of great brands within the current portfolio, and usually when we follow the insights it tends to pretty clearly ladder up to one of the brands in the portfolio.
“Continuing to invest behind the brands we have today is a big priority for us, but it doesn’t preclude launching new brands.”