Banquet Bingo – Banquet’s Homestyle Bakes shelf-stable dinner kits – Brief Article – Product Announcement

Sonia Reyes

ConAgra’s Banquet brand enters the sizzling market for one-step dinner kits with a $35 million push behind Homestyle Bakes, a shelf-stable rival to Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper and others.

The value newcomer will look to extend the frozen food brand’s equity and target time-starved consumers who don’t feel like cooking, but want to assuage the guilt about feeding their family poorly. It enters a $533 million category that is seeing robust growth that’s likely to be fueled further by tight-fisted consumers choosing to eat out less and prepare more meals at home.

TV, print and promotions, via ConAgra Food’s roster agencies Grey New York or Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, will run September-March and tout Homestyle Bakes’ ease of preparation and fresh ingredients like real (canned) chicken. A full-page FSI will drop in September along with retail-specific events, supermarket floor ads and shelf coupons.

The national rollout of Home-style Bakes on June 25 follows a successful test in Cincinnati and Atlanta last year that was backed by a TV spot from agency Nelson Henry Minneapolis.

ConAgra will ship the four test flavors–creamy chicken and biscuits; creamy turkey and stuffing; beef stew and biscuits; and beef chili with beans and cornbread–plus four new ones including creamy chicken and biscuits; Italian pasta with meatballs and garlic bread; cheesy ham and hashbrowns; and beef stew and biscuits.

The family-sized kits, aimed at moms aged 18-54, average five servings per box and are packed with potatoes, pasta, bread or biscuits in a pouch and a 20-oz. can of beef, ham, turkey or chicken. Average cooking time in the oven: 35 minutes.

The effort is the first major initiative to come under ConAgra’s “Operation Overdrive,” a commitment unveiled last fall to step up spending and street support for its core brands including Bumble Bee and Hunt’s.

ConAgra, whose earnings have slipped during the economic downturn, is a latecomer to a category that has entrenched food titans like General Mills, whose mainstay Hamburger Helper leads the pack with sales up 8.4% to $265 million for the year ending March 25, per Information Resources Inc. Kraft’s Stove Top Oven Classics ranked second with sales of $62 million, up 13.2%.

“This is a big bet for ConAgra,” said David Nelson, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston. “Conceptually it’s a reasonable initiative but it’s not like they’re known for their great marketing acumen. Its success will depend not on how much they’re spending but on the quality of the product and the marketing message?

Another rival, Unilever’s Lipton Sizzle & Stir, which launched last summer, is not faring as well with a 14.9% plunge in sales to $53 million for the same period. To pump up sales, Unilever last month launched a $25 million Old Navy-style effort for Sizzle & Stir featuring past-their-prime celebs like Sally Jesse Raphael, Loni Anderson, Mr. T and George Hamilton.

Advertising, however, doesn’t address a key roadblock to acceptance. “The challenge with dry meal kits is, how do you get consumers to the center of the store for a main meal?” said Nelson.

ConAgra spent a mere $1 million on the Banquet brand in 1998 with no ad funds allocated in 1999 or 2000, per Competitive Media Reporting.

COPYRIGHT 2001 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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