Hormel Food Labs this winter launched Vital Cuisine Products, which are protein packed, calorie dense ready-to-eat foods designed to help people overcome the nutritional challenges during cancer treatment, Timothy Garry, a company representative, told FoodNavigator-USA at the Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo in Boston earlier this month.
“Our CEO challenged us to do more than donate money by asking us why we didn’t have any products for cancer patients,” Garry said.
In response, the company teamed with the Cancer Nutrition Consortium, which includes physicians, registered dietitians, and chefs, to “get the lay of the land” and identify what needs cancer patients had that were not being met nutritionally, Garry said.
“We sent ethnographers into the homes of cancer patients and pulled open the cabinets and really got into the emotional space of trying to figure out what to eat when you are having radiation or chemotherapy,” he explained. And while different types of cancer created different needs, a common set of challenges came out loud and clear, he said.
“A lot of it was taste sensitivity and smell sensitivity because the radiation had screwed a lot of that up. Also, we saw super fatigue – they just did not feel like doing anything. And the other one was a sense of ‘I just want to be able to cook dinner. I am a normal person, but I have cancer and I am just not used to being dependent on others, so I am looking for little opportunities to make me feel more normal and take care of myself,’” Garry said.
The last component was an emotional element that Hormel researchers would not have discovered if they hadn’t spent time with cancer patients and survivors in their day-to-day lives, but it also is one of the most influential discoveries in the new line.
All three of the products that are part of Vital Cuisine can be prepared and consumed by those going through or recovering from cancer treatment – empowering them to take control of at least one aspect of their care.
Specifically, the line includes three ready-to-serve shelf-stable meals that can be ready to eat in 60 seconds and offer flavor profiles that many Americans associate with comfort food. The options include Chicken with Dumplings, Roast Beef with Mushrooms and Gravy and Vegetarian stew – all of which offer 11-23 grams of protein, at least 300 calories and are nut-free.
If sitting down to a full meal is not an option, consumers also can grab a protein shake with 25 grams of protein from whey, 230 calories and only 3 grams of sugar per 14-ounce serving. The shakes are available in traditional chocolate and vanilla and more trend-forward banana crème.
Finally, Vital Cuisine offers a 100% Whey Protein powder that empowers consumers to have the brand’s “whey your way!” Each 1.2 ounce packet has 25 grams of protein, 2 grams of sugar and 130 calories. These are ideal for patients who have a low appetite but still need to meet basic nutrition needs.
The brand will be available in drug stores, at pharmacies and in major supermarkets, according to Garry.
He also noted that going forward the company plans to expand the meal selection as well as the shake flavors. It also could create additional formats and platforms that address the difficulty of eating during and after cancer treatment.