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ConAgra ties fortunes to rising nutritional awareness

By Anthony Fletcher , 26-Oct-2005

ConAgra's attempt to inextricably link itself with current health trends is evident in the launch of its latest range of products under the "Eat Well, Live Well, Choose Well" slogan.

ConAgra Foods believes that by offering consumers simple and convenient solutions that are in tune with the new MyPyramid US food guidance system, it can carve out a niche in one of the fastest growing and most innovative food segments.

"We enthusiastically support the new MyPyramid US food-guidance system, because it offers Americans a road map to better eating habits that is tailored to their individualized mealtime needs and food choices. It's a philosophy we share," said Pat Verduin, senior vice president for product quality and development at ConAgra Foods.

 

"Through our Nutrition Center of Excellence, our food scientists strive for continuous improvement in the world of nutrition and work diligently to translate and apply science in the marketplace by offering consumers more nutritious, great-tasting food choices."

 

The new products featured at this week's American Dietetic Association's (ADA) annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in St. Louis include Orville Redenbacher's Kettle Corn mini-bags. The firm claims that the product provides a convenient way for consumers to get whole grains.

 

Other new products include Healthy Choice microwaveable soup bowls and Max pizzas & El eXtremo burritos with Ultragrain.

 

The marketing initiative underlines exactly where food makers are channeling their resources. While ready meals continue to enjoy rapid growth rates due to consumer preferences for convenience, growing concern over health means that nutrition now plays a critical role in purchasers' decision making process.

 

Indeed, American consumers are becoming a lot more label-conscious than they once were. There is growing awareness for example of the danger of trans fats, and as of January 1 of course, trans fat label will be obligatory.

 

This week's launch is in fact the latest in a series of campaigns designed to reinforce ConAgra's image as a maker of healthy foods. The firm ran a 'Green is Good' marketing campaign in the summer, which involved television advertising, in-store programs, free-standing inserts in local papers, consumer promotions and coupon sampling.

 

"Americans are looking for simple, sensible and satisfying solutions to help them eat and live well," said Gary Rodkin, who became chief executive officer of ConAgra Foods at the start of October.

 

"Today, we offer a wide range of good-for-you options for wherever and whenever people eat."

 

Gary Rodkin has been determined to reinforce this image since he took over from Bruce Rohde, and his appointment comes at a critical time for the company. ConAgra Foods has seen rapid growth, but is currently experiencing staff cuts and a decline in profits.

 

Within the last decade, ConAgra has been transformed from 90 independent operating companies into three focused business segments serving customers in retail, foodservices and ingredients.

 

The company divested commodity-based businesses, including fresh beef, pork and chicken, canned seafood, cheese and agricultural inputs to concentrate instead on marketing, operational efficiency and business consolidation with the aim of improving customer service and increasing margins.

 

However in March this year, the company announced that its third-quarter operating profit fell 12.6 percent to $396 million compared with the year before. It blamed the weak results on refrigerated branded meats, food production problems and inefficiencies in technology consolidation.

 

But by driving home the message that ConAgra Foods is firmly in tune with current nutritional trends, Rodkin believes that he can get the company back on track.

 

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