Nestle brings the bistro to frozen-food section

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With a raft of new restaurant-inspired frozen entrees, Nestle USA is hoping to inspire consumers to pay more for Stouffer's.

Touting adjectives like "fresh" and "contemporary," premium-priced Stouffer's Corner Bistro will be targeted not to Nestle's usual economy-minded frozen-food buyer but to middle and upper-income folks used to spending restaurant prices and getting restaurant quality. Under the theme "Bring the bistro home," Nestle will spend upward of $15 million on TV and print ads that bow in September as well as on public-relations events designed to hammer home the idea that the meals are worth the extra money. (The suggested retail price is $3.99.)

Retail executives believe the idea has legs, but not long ones. Corner Bistro "will probably really take off only in certain demographic pockets, definitely not in rural areas," said one Midwest retail buyer. That may be just the point, though, as Nestle seeks to expand its reach.

The launch is being driven by research from Technomic/NPD that shows grocery shoppers on average eat out 1.5 times per week and that casual-dining restaurants have experienced double-digit growth over the last 20 years. Corner Bistro, with six varieties culled from restaurant menus including Seafood Scampi and Grilled Rosemary Chicken, is intended to capture those consumers before competitors can. Unilever, for example, launched its own premium restaurant-quality frozen meals earlier under the banner of Bertolli Complete Skillet Dinners for Two (AA, Nov. 1, 2004).

ON A TEAR

Nestle has been on a tear this year with its full-calorie "Red Box" Stouffer's line after it suffered some sales declines pegged to the low-carb trend last year. Sales for the base business in food, drug and mass outlets grew 7.3% to $367 million for the 52 weeks ended April 17 while its Family Style Recipes line grew 10.7% to $257 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

With its Lean Cuisine Spa Cuisine launch earlier this year, Nestle ventured beyond traditional media with ties to the Sundance Film Festival and buzz marketing events that landed the brand in American Media's Star and Wenner Media's US Weekly. Corner Bistro is likewise going to be pushed via events developed by Publicis Groupe's Publicis Dialog, Seattle. Advertising, from WPP Group's JWT, Chicago, will tout the idea that the Corner Bistro is a lineup of "restaurant-inspired meals that make you look forward to coming home."

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