Armour gets $10 mil push

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Conagra Foods will heavily back its Armour brand this year as it looks to bill the former commodity meat label as its solution to convenient meals.

The initiative, part of ConAgra's ongoing effort to upgrade its brand portfolio, includes a $10 million-plus media budget (a big boost from 2002's less-than-$1 million outlay) and a slew of new-product innovation.

According to Steve Silk, president of ConAgra Refrigerated Foods' Consumer Products unit, Armour had long been left to compete in stagnant, low-value and low-margin categories such as canned ham and bacon, because ConAgra "didn't see it as a frontier of innovation."

Over the last few years, though, as the company has eyed equities it can transform into value-added brands, attention has been showered on Armour hot dogs through a baseball-themed program dubbed Armour Stars. The success of that program-volume growth of 11.3% over the last year according to Information Resources Inc.-has sparked an expansion of the brand.

In addition to Armour hot dogs and the recent rebranding of Con-Agra's Eckrich Lunchmakers kids' meals under the Armour name, ConAgra this month will launch a line of Armour Fully Cooked Meals. The refrigerated, home-style four-serving meals-which will go up against similar entries such as Kraft Fresh Preps-include entrees and sides ready in seven minutes.

The meals will be spotlighted in a large-scale TV campaign from Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide set to break Feb. 10, the first in a series of ads touting "the new Armour" to harried, middle-income young families, Mr. Silk said. Creative depicts the food as hero, and the tagline, "What if `what's for dinner?' had a fresh answer?"

breakfast options

Later this year, ConAgra plans to launch a full lineup of Armour breakfast options (some of which, like Swift breakfast sausage, have been offered under different brand names) as well as a line of microwaveable snacks and finger foods aimed at teenagers.

ConAgra's brand-renaissance plan also calls for the extension of the Butterball brand with the launch later this month of Fully Cooked Entrees.

Although Wall Street has been enthusiastic about ConAgra's plans, some analysts, like Credit Suisse First Boston's Dave Nelson, are loath to bank on the results just yet. In a recent note, Mr. Nelson cited ConAgra's efforts to "do the right things," including improving portfolio quality and upgrading brand equity, but still offered a neutral rating on the stock "until we can achieve greater confidence that they can pull [it] off."

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