CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- For many consumers, the joy of cooking is about not having to do any -- and that's what Bellisio Foods, maker of Michelina's frozen entrees, is banking on. The package-foods marketer has licensed the "Joy of Cooking" name and is testing a line of frozen dishes in 3,500 grocery stores in 23 markets including Boston; Louisville, Ky.; Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; and Rochester, N.Y.
"It's a premium, well-known brand that has a great history and heritage and it also fits really well with the trends in the category, which is around helping time-starved consumers get dinner on the table," said Jeff Tuttle, senior VP-marketing. "Cooking is the center of that, and here's a cookbook brand that suits that trend perfectly."
The original "Joy of Cooking" was published in 1931 with the purpose of demystifying meal preparation and helping women get dinner on the table in short order. Subsequent iterations have attempted to simplify the process even further. These days, schedules are even more condensed and there's a lower bar for what passes as cooking.
With that in mind, Joyofcookingfoods.com introduces the products and offers a range of ways to "make it your own," by adding, for example, shredded cheese to a pasta dish or beef strips to lo mein. Everything can also just be heated and served. More adventurous consumers are directed to pages in the cookbook, because most of them already own it -- even if it's never been opened.
But that simple fact loans Bellisio credibility. "Everybody has 'The Joy of Cooking,' Better Homes and Gardens or Betty Crocker," said Lynn Dornblaser, director-consumer package goods insight at Mintel. "It's a name people are going to know; it's a name that evokes a sense of confidence because of the venerable nature of the cookbook."
She added that while many people are looking to express themselves when cooking even a frozen dinner, the products are also on-trend with the economy. Middle-class families are trading down from $30 casual-dining fare to groceries in droves, and they don't want to give up restaurant-quality meals.
Still, it's a tough time to shill a premium-priced dinner. Joy of Cooking entrees go for $6.99 to $8.99, and vegetables are priced at $3.99. At that level, Joy will be competing with entrenched brands such as Bertolli and Bird's Eye. And these days even well-heeled shoppers are giving private labels a second look. "We're finding that there is more price sensitivity out there and, in fact, we're probably having to work a little harder to get people to try our products based on the pricing," Mr. Tuttle said. To combat the problem, Bellisio is mounting a coupon push that lets consumers try a range of products -- entree, vegetable and rolls that serve four -- priced at $10.
Joy of Cooking products are aimed at women aged 30 to 45. Mr. Tuttle declined to disclose the brand's marketing budget, but said that 30% of spending would be dedicated to online because women in that age range spend two to three hours on the web every day.
Brand consultancy CBX created the strategy and package design. Atomic Playpen, Minneapolis, handles advertising, which includes print, outdoor and a website, LetJoyIn.com. The website introduces Joy, a 1950s-era housewife with an attitude who battles the Dragon, a snarky guy in an insect suit out to ruin her healthy dinners.
The ad buy includes publications such as People, Cooking Light, Country Living and Food & Wine. Web ads will run on Yahoo, Food Network, RachaelRay.com and Google Ad Sense. In addition to radio spots and billboards in most of the test markets, Bellisio tapped celebrity chef Jon Ashton as a paid spokesman.