ConAgra Foods is pumping $100m into expanding its facility in Russellville, Arkansas, to make Bertolli and P.F. Chang's frozen meals in a move that will create 80 new jobs.
The site, which opened in the 1960s, currently employs approximately 1,350 staff making Banquet family entrees, Healthy Choice and Marie Callender’s products.
The cash will be spent on equipment and additional space, a spokesman told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We believe we can grow the Bertolli and P.F. Chang’s brands through our innovation capabilities and expertise in frozen foods.”
ConAgra acquired the Bertolli and P.F. Chang's Home Menu frozen meals businesses from Unilever earlier this year in a $267m deal.
The meals are currently made in a Unilever plant in Owensboro, Kentucky, but will gradually transfer to the Russellville site, said the spokesman.
"We’ll start making some of the meals next summer."
The acquisition included the frozen meals businesses, a license for use of the Bertolli brand name and the transfer of Unilever’s existing license with P.F. Chang’s for use of the P.F. Chang’s Home Menu brand name.
The feedback we get from our customers is that we are, by far, the best innovator…
ConAgra is predicting a steady rebound in the frozen case this year as innovative new products gain traction.
Speaking to analysts on a conference call about the firm’s first quarter results earlier this month, chief executive Gary Rodkin said: “Our latest round of new products, including Healthy Choice and Marie Callender's Bakes, Healthy Choice Greek Frozen Yogurt and the Marie Callender's single-serve cream pies are all ramping up in terms of store presence and points of distribution.
“We expect these to make a good contribution to sales and volume for the full fiscal year, and we'll support them with marketing and additional new items as the year progresses.”
PF Chang’s and Bertolli bring us new consumers and new eating occasions
He added: “The feedback we get consistently from our customers is that we are, by far, the best innovator. We are doing things that are platform oriented, not really one-off.”
PF Chang’s and Bertolli have also opened up new opportunities in the frozen case, he said.
“These brands are targeted at a higher income segment at higher price points and… bring us new consumers and new eating occasions.”
We'll bring out some things for breakfast that will get consumers interested
President of Consumer Foods André J. Hawaux added: “In frozen we have an innovation machine… We feel very good about the capabilities to innovate off of those two brands unbelievably well in multi-serve but also in other areas.
“We've now sort of captured the frozen case, if you will, from sunrise to sunset in the sense that we have it now at the breakfast occasion all the way through the dessert occasion.
“We're looking at innovation across that entire lineup. We think we'll bring out some things for breakfast that will get consumers interested.”