Nestle takes Sensations from stove-top to oven

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Nestle USA, after sizzling success with its Stouffer's Skillet Sensations, has cooked up a new line of all-in-one frozen meals for time-pressed consumers.

Stouffer's Oven Sensations ship in July, backed by $35 million in marketing support. The line follows on the heels of Nestle's Stouffer's Skillet Sensations, a premium line of frozen meat and vegetable stir-fry kits that has grown to $84 million in sales since its launch in late 1998.

The new line includes five varieties of traditional oven-baked meals for two, such as Yankee Pot Roast, Baked Chicken & Cheddar Rice and Roasted Garlic Chicken. The meals come in foil bags and require consumers to pour the contents into a baking dish, bake for 30 minutes and stir. Like its stove-top predecessor, Oven Sensations is intended to lure young, upwardly mobile couples back to the freezer section with a tagline that promises "Oven-Roasted meals without the fuss."

National TV advertising in prime-time and daytime programs such as "Frasier" and "Rosie O'Donnell" will run from September through November and again from February through April 2001. Print will run in national magazines such as Time Inc.'s People and Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes & Gardens. Free standing inserts with coupons hit newspapers Sept. 24 and Dec. 3.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, handles the marketing campaign.


In the $4.5 billion frozen dinners and entrees category -- long dominated by boxed tray meals -- the biggest growth has come from the frozen kit segment that lends consumers a sense of involvement in meal preparation. That segment grew 47% in dollar sales in 1999, 50% of which can be attributed to Stouffer's Skillet Sensations, according to Nestle sales materials.

Other entries in frozen kits over the last two years include Agrilink Foods' Birds Eye Voila! and ConAgra's Marie Callender's Complete Skillet Meals. Pillsbury Co., which virtually invented the category with its Green Giant Create-a-Meal, has seen sales for its kits drop 24.6% to $116 million for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27, according to Information Resources Inc., largely due to the fact that the line does not include meat, as others do.


Oven Sensations also will help Nestle compete in the wider prepared meals category, which extends beyond the freezer case. Kraft Foods and General Mills have ramped up their offerings in prepared meals in a similar effort to reach consumers willing to pay top dollar for easy meal solutions (Oven Sensations will carry a suggested retail price above $4).

"We're seeing big declines in the value sector because consumers want more premium products," said John McMillan, analyst at Prudential Securities. "It's the Haagen-Dazs phenomenon."

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