Innovation has helped propel B&G Foods' Ortega brand to nearly doubled sales in a decade.


PHOENIX — Innovation has helped B&G Foods, Inc. hold its own against competitors in key categories. Product development is a priority for the company’s Ortega brand of taco seasonings and shells, which holds a second-place spot to General Mills’ Old El Paso.

 “So, in Mexican, for instance, we’re a very strong No. 2,” said David Wenner, president, chief executive officer and director of the Parsippany, N.J.-based company, May 13 at the Barclays High Yield Bond and Syndicated Loan Conference in Phoenix. “We bring a lot of innovation to the category, arguably more than General Mills does. So there, we’re up against the 800-lb gorilla, very large food company with a lot of resources, and we do a great job of holding our own with a good strong brand and with innovation.”

Recent Ortega launches include skillet sauces in cilantro and green chile, taco, and fajita varieties; fish taco seasoning mix; and flat-bottom taco shells. Through new product development, B&G Foods has transformed the once-distressed brand into one of the company’s key businesses.

“When we bought it from Nestle 10 years ago, it was $80 million in sales,” Mr. Wenner said. “Today, it’s around $150 million in sales.”

B&G Foods also reinvigorated Mrs. Dash, a less-than-profitable brand when the company bought it from Unilever a few years ago, by introducing new dry seasoning mixes and dip mixes. And B&G has extended its Baker’s Joy line with grilling and cooking sprays.

“And then, we do modest launches within the smaller brands, like the Maple Grove franchise competes in salad dressings; to the extent you want to stay relevant in salad dressings, you have to do new product activity all the time,” Mr. Wenner said. “So, we do some modest activity there and even the Emeril Lagasse line, which is a license that we’ve had now for 14 years, we continue to launch new things like these new flavors of pasta sauce.”

Innovation is especially critical in the highly competitive snack market, where B&G Foods has forged a larger presence in the past two years with four big acquisitions.

B&G Foods has expanded its recently acquired Pirate's Booty line with a fruity variety and macaroni and cheese products.


“Snacks is all about innovation,” Mr. Wenner said. “You cannot stand still in snacks. You’re in a race, and if you stand still, you’re obviously not going to win the race. So, it really is all about speed of innovation, and we actually think we have some advantages there over the very large competitors that we have in terms of being able to be responsive to consumer trends and enter what the retailer wants.”

Creating a new leadership position to oversee its snack brands has positioned B&G Foods to accelerate innovation within the category. The company recently broadened its Pirate’s Booty line by adding four macaroni and cheese products made with organic pasta. B&G Foods also introduced Fruity Booty, a sweet raspberry variety of the brand’s puffed snacks.

Additionally, B&G has expanded its Rickland Orchards line of Greek yogurt-coated bars to include new organic trail mix products and crispy rice bars. The company also recently added new varieties of snack chips to its New York Style brand.

New products under the Rickland Orchards banner include organic trail mixes and crispy rice treats.


Flexibility in product development has enabled the company to gain distribution in warehouse clubs and other channels.

“People like Costco are very much about what’s the wave today, and how do I ride that wave?” Mr. Wenner said. “And to the extent you can tailor your products to what they are looking for and what they want to present to the consumers, then you have a very enhanced chance of being successful. So what we’ve discovered is unlike the molasses business where there’s not a lot of innovation, you really need to alter your DNA to do that.”