Prepared Foods November 14, 2005 e-newsletter

With America's fast-paced culture, convenience has reigned supreme as a primary benefit guiding U.S. consumers' purchasing decisions. However, a study released by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) shows that, while the market for convenience products remains strong, consumers now are demanding a more-robust convenience-based product.

The report, "Times & Trends: Beyond Time Savings: The New Face of Convenience," examines an evolving landscape of convenience solutions that is responding to shifting demographics, growing consumer expectations and rising health concerns.

"Yesterday's consumer was content with purchasing a product that promised to be quick and easy," said Janet Eden-Harris, executive vice president and global chief marketing officer, IRI. "Now, consumers expect those same offerings to also provide significant nutritional benefits, as well as greater portability, quality and value.

CONVENIENT MEAL SOLUTIONS As more Americans are allotting less time for dinner preparation, the demand for convenient meal solutions remains great. The study reveals, though, that demand has evolved beyond simple time-savings alternatives, with consumers now requiring greater health and wellness benefits, taste and value.

In that quest for healthy offerings, consumers increasingly are reaching for refrigerated meals and meal components, reportedly perceiving these items to use fresher ingredients and contain fewer additives than their frozen and shelf-stable counterparts. According to IRI, this growth in the refrigerated sector bodes well for the supermarket channel, which holds an overwhelming share of this market, but also continues to battle Wal-Mart to maintain that share. The report encourages traditional grocers to protect and grow their footprint in the high-growth refrigerated meal solutions segment through targeted marketing and merchandising initiatives.

Additionally, frozen convenient meal solutions, namely multi-serve frozen meals, benefited from increased innovation, effective targeted marketing and greater appeal to value-conscious consumers to exhibit solid growth. The Baby Boomer segment is the primary target market for several successful new products within this category. As more consumers in this demographic become empty nesters, they become far less likely to purchase those convenient meal solutions specifically targeted toward hectic families. These multi-serve frozen meals apparently bridge the gap within this critical segment.

CONVENIENT SNACKS AND BEVERAGES Portability and portion control appear to be the primary benefits driving strong growth in the convenient snack segment. With indulgent snacks, sales of single-serve and/or multi-packs of single-serve products, such as Nabisco's 100-Calorie Packs, have risen steadily in the combined supermarket, drugstore and mass merchandiser retailer (excluding Wal-Mart) outlet.

Focusing on health-based snacks, several key categories continue to push strong growth in this sector with their ability to satisfy consumers' snacking and meal-replacement needs in portable packaging. Because of its unique packaging and product innovation, sales of yogurt, in both single-serve cup and drink formats, continue to lead the way within the healthy snack and meal replacement sector. Additionally, granola bars and rice snack squares continue to post strong gains, while soups have more aggressively staked their claim with the onset of such portable products as Campbell's Soup-At-Hand.

There are also potential growth opportunities for manufacturers and retailers with regard to on-the-go beverages, which have experienced strong sales growth across major categories within food, drug and mass merchandise channels (excluding Wal-Mart). Retailers should strive to ensure that consumers have easy access to such beverages at multiple locations throughout the store, while manufacturers should continue to increase points of access for single-serve beverages.