November 28/Downers Grove, Ill./Crain's Chicago Business -- Sara Lee Corp. plans a major image upgrade of its meat brands when the company splits its North American retail unit from its international coffee business next year, according to a report.

The Downers Grove-based food company intends to remake its Hillshire Farm lunchmeats and launch two premium deli brands around the notion of handcrafted farming, curing and butchering practices.

Its Hillshire Farm brand will be “evolved” to Hillshire Farms with a redesign to “emphasize taste with the added benefit of convenience,” according to an internal document.

The goal is to make Hillshire Farms “the market-share leader in the mainstream premium lunchmeat” category through “honest ingredients and rethought packaging,” the document said. “Consumers are lost in a sea of convenient processed meats,” and that “70% of lunchmeat brand purchase decisions are made in-store.”

Much the way a fine restaurant waiter sells menu items with lip-smacking descriptions of each dish, the Sara Lee plan calls for the lunchmeat line to play up its enhanced flavorings like cracked pepper in turkey and summer honey infused into ham.

Packaging will focus on the flavor, with artist renderings of peppercorns on the vine and chunks of fresh honeycombs dripping with nectar on clean, modern labels to stand out from other brands in the refrigerator case.

The strategy follows other food companies like Domino's Pizza, Frito-Lay and Sargento that have co-opted artisanal practices on the success of companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Aidell's Sausage Co., which Sara Lee acquired in May for $87 million.

According to the plan, Sara Lee also intends to partner with or even buy a small network of hog farms to reinforce its aspiration toward sustainable farming. “While we don't expect to ever source 100% of our animals from Hillshire Farms, we do aspire to drive the conversation and approach to sustainable farming,” the company says in the document.

Sara Lee also plans to launch meat brands for the pre-sliced deli case and the cut-to-order deli department brands that play up old-world European butchery methods “to own the ‘world of charcuterie,'” in the U.S. In the presentation, the brands are called Smith & Smith Fine Meats and Flat Iron Ranch.

“We strive to be ambassadors of rare meat curing processes and advocates of humanely made, nutritious food,” said a page of the presentation. Another page shows sliced meat on butcher paper with a small tag that includes a photo and story, presumably about the farmers who raised the livestock. The company outlined other products, including branded items like meat hooks, meat slicers, cutting boards and aprons.

Flat Iron Ranch would compete in the ultra-premium meat segment that Sara Lee estimates at $2.1 billion and where sales of brands like Boar's Head are up 15% and Applegate are up 21%. Sara Lee could capture $300 million of that from Flat Iron Ranch, according to the document.

Sara Lee officials called the document a draft for an internal presentation of its 2012 meat company launch and told that it was out of date and a work in progress.

However, in its annual report, the company uses similarly wishful imagery for its products, which look more high-end than what is available today.

The company also has applied for new trademarks for Blazing Star Meats and Mallet & Bone, under its Saramar LLC unit.

“We do not comment on rumor or speculation in the marketplace,” a Sara Lee spokesman said in an email. “We file for many names and trademarks, some used, some not. As of today, we have not chosen a name for the new company.”

He said that the company would unveil its plans at a March investor day.

 From the November 30, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.