Big item on food menu: Home meal replacements

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With the grocery industry racing to recapture food dollars lost to restaurants, food marketers are focusing on "home meal replacements" as an alternative to takeout.

At the Food Marketing Institute's annual supermarket show last week, Sara Lee Corp. projected so-called HMRs will account for 80% of the $100 billion in projected industry growth by the year 2005, noting that "most families no longer prepare dinner from scratch."


Boston Market knows that well. The takeout chain credited with sparking the supermarket industry's wakeup call is kicking off a line of ready-to-heat branded meals for sale in its restaurants, said Gerard Lewis, senior VP-research and development.

He estimated that ready-to-eat HMRs are 25% of the overall $80 billion to $110 billion HMR category, while ready-to-heat meals account for 35%.

Boston Market also has been toying with a national supermarket line under the Boston Market name; a spokeswoman said that although discussions with grocers have taken place, no such line is imminent.

One of the most aggressive in new products is Tyson Foods, with its Tyson Restaurant Favorites eight-item line of frozen meals. Actually a relaunch of the company's Fajita Kits, Restaurant Favorites is marketed as a meal for two and some products in the line feature wraps, a popular item on fast-food menus relatively untapped by supermarkets.

Restaurant Favorites is Tyson's second big push. It is currently testing in six markets a refrigerated line of single-serve meals under the Gourmet Selections banner. The chicken and pasta combination comes with sauces created by Mallard's Restaurants of California.

DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, handles both lines. Restaurant Favorites will receive about $3 million to $5 million in total marketing support, mainly radio, according to Robert Klein, senior VP-group account director. Gourmet Selections, now in select markets, will be supported in its introductory phase with couponing, in-store advertising and sampling.

Sara Lee's HMR entries include Sara Lee HomeRoast, a line of slow-roasted meats marketed in sandwich slices, spiral sliced meats and "main course" meats such as Oven Roasted Chicken Breast and Honey Ham; all are handled by PGC, Dallas, which will kick off radio and TV ads in June.

Sara Lee's Hillshire Farm unit, meanwhile, is launching ads for a line of ready-to-serve cooked meats under the TenderSmoked name. Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, handles advertising, breaking in June.

Sara Lee has Savory Fare Gourmet Sausages, an upscale line of six flavors such as Chicken With Sun Dried Tomatoes & Parmesan Cheese, already receiving a national TV ad campaign.


Kraft Foods' HMR drive so far has focused on recipes and ingredients. The company has created numerous store displays linking its products as ingredients for themed meals or under banners such as "No oven summer" and "Simple answers."

It's also touting meal solutions on its Kraft Interactive Kitchen Web site.

Kraft is testing at least one new product that fits the HMR banner, Oscar Mayer Hotwiches, which Group VP Robert Eckert described as a refrigerated line of single-serve microwaveable meals like sloppy joes.

Testing in Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis, the product is handled by J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago.

The rush to HMRs has prompted meal solutions from unlikely players.

Frito-Lay, for example, is testing Frito-Lay Cafe, a display featuring recipes, the company's chips and a cooler to be stocked with a retailer's private-label recipe ingredients. Now in Wegman's in upstate New York and Houston, Frito Lay Cafe provides meal recipes using salty snacks as ingredients, including Florentine Shrimp Au Gratin and Fritos Beef Skillet.

Even Coca-Cola Co. is looking to get into the act, touting merchandising systems that place Coke near HMR displays in food stores.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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