Pillsbury earmarks $45 mil for Green Giant meals launch

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The Jolly Green Giant now does chicken. Pillsbury Co. this June will launch a line of frozen Green Giant Complete Skillet Meals backed by an unprecedented $45 million in marketing support.

Pillsbury is late to a category that has grown to a $360 million business in just two years. The hottest item in the frozen-food aisle these days is all-in-one vegetable-and-meat meal kits. Pillsbury's vegetable-and-sauce Green Giant Create a Meal requires consumers to add meat separately.

Since Green Giant's Create a Meal was introduced in 1991, competitors have made dinner even more convenient. Nestle USA's Stouffer Skillet Sensations, Agrilink Foods' Birds Eye Voila! and Con Agra's Marie Callender's Complete Skillet Meals all include meat.

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME

Pillsbury has been faulted for not reacting quickly enough to the change, but hopes to make up for lost time with the new launch, the largest in recent Green Giant history, a company spokeswoman said.

While existing varieties of complete meals have typically targeted upscale two-person households, Pillsbury intends to differentiate its Green Giant skillet meals by positioning them as family friendly with four-person serving sizes and product names that appeal to young kids.

Among the seven varieties, all chicken-based, are Noodelicious Chicken Lo Mein, Gotta Have Chicken Teriyaki and Crowd Pleasing Chicken & Cheesy Pasta.

Advertising, from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, will target women with families via TV spots beginning in October as well as outdoor ads and newspaper inserts.

MAJOR GROWTH

Stouffer Skillet Sensations grew 112% to $83 million for the 52 weeks ended April 23, prompting the Oven Sensations line that debuts in July (AA, April 10). Birds Eye Voila! grew 34.8% to $109 million.

Sales for Create a Meal, meanwhile, despite its teriyaki variety that Pillsbury said is the No. 1 selling item in the meal category, fell 30.2% to $106 million, according to Information Resources Inc. Pillsbury spent less than $1 million -- all of it in spot radio -- against Create a Meal in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Overall spending for the unit totaled $132 million last year.

Overall, profit for Pillsbury has been flat despite increased marketing spending, and the company has been struggling -- as with its behind-the-times position in frozen meal kits -- to keep up with consumer trends.

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