CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The casual-dining industry may be looking for sunny indicators as to what 2010 may bring, but Kraft is betting big that consumers will continue to eat at home next year. The world's second-largest food company is unveiling 20 products, many of them designed to help consumers re-create restaurant experiences at home.
"Many of our new items reflect consumers' interests in bold flavors, especially those that are Italian-inspired or have a Mexican flair," John Li, director of Kraft's Culinary Center, said in a statement. "Hot and spicy is big, so chipotle and garlic are key flavor notes, while berry-infused items remain on-trend. The increasing desire for bolder flavors is not limited to a single age group. Everyone is asking for more-adventurous taste experiences."
Kraft is seizing on popular flavors such as sea salt, chili lime and cracked pepper with Planters Flavor Grove Nuts; dark chocolate is a star in its Back to Nature granola cookies; and Oscar Mayer is introducing super-thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. The company is also catching on to important health trends, with Planters "Nut-rition" antioxidant and omega-3 mixes.
The company is also extending its line of powdered beverages, with Kool-Aid Fun Fizz drink drops, which makes the brand's first effervescent product, and Crystal Light Pure Fitness powders, with no artificial flavors or sweeteners.
It may be good news for package-food companies that the economy isn't expected to stage a radical turnaround in 2010, because consumers aren't likely to revert back to more conspicuous-consumption habits, such as regular lunches and dinners at restaurants. Instead, they're likely looking to amp up their at-home dining.
"Consumers are still talking about eating at home and [these products also] fit right into entertaining at home," said Lynn Dornblaser, director-CPG Insight at Mintel. She noted that while the new nut mixes and applewood-smoked bacon would be great when having company over, chocolate-mousse Jell-O packages, 100-calorie packs and granola cookies are perfect for brown-bag lunches.
Many of the new items, such as Lunchables sandwiches with whole-grain bread and 100%-white-meat chicken, put the brand in head-to-head competition with Subway. The company is also turning up the volume on its cheese flavors, with jalapeno American, bacon cheddar and three-cheese garlic-and-herb cheese slices from the Deli Deluxe brand.
And while sea-salt nuts, triple ginger cookies and antioxidant mixes may not be new to foodies, Ms. Dornblaser said it's a good time for Kraft to be adding such flavors. "Two or three years ago, it would have been way too early for them," she said, noting that Kraft needs a larger return on a new product than a startup brand. "Now that antioxidants show up everywhere in the press and consumers are talking about what antioxidants are, it makes sense for them to get into it."