In general there is a perception today that big food does not innovate – but merely offers subtle twists on the classics on which it built its legacy – or by acquiring innovative startups.
But at Stouffer’s, marketing manager Erica Starrfield says the brand creates true innovation by seeking out real consumer needs and pain points and then looking for ways to address those challenges while still playing to its strengths as a leader in the frozen food segment.
For example, she points to the company’s new Complete Family Meal Kits, which launched this fall.
“If you look at what the benefits of meal kits are for consumers, you see that they offer quicker preparation and ease some of the mental work of making dinner, which is not just about preparing it, but also about thinking about what you are going to make, shopping for it and then making it,” Starrfield said.
While subscription meal kits offer several advantages, they also have many challenges, which Starrfield says Stouffer’s addresses with its new Complete Family Meal Kits.
“A lot of the meal kits require a lot of prep work beyond what consumers may consider ‘quick.’ So, while consumers are looking for quick prep, they often are getting something that is a lot more work than they bargained for. And that is a paint point we look to meet with our Complete Family Meal Kits,” she explained.
Stouffer’s meal kits do that by offering a box that comes with four individually wrapped components that are already chopped, sorted and portioned. Each kit includes a protein, a vegetable, a starch and a sauce.
Because more of the prep work is done with Stouffer’s product than some of the subscription kits, Starrfield says consumers can get dinner on the table faster than with other kits, which can still sometimes take an hour to prepare.
“At the end of the day, there is only so much time and consumers certainly don’t want dinner to take more time to prep than it does for the family to sit at the table and eat. That is why it is important for us to have it be able to be ready in less than 25 minutes,” she said.
Stouffer’s kits also eliminate the need to plan ahead that is required of many subscription services, Starrfield said. She explained that because the kits are frozen it is easy for consumers to pick one up at the store when they do their regular shopping and then have it in the freezer to make at a moment’s notice.
Unlike some of the subscription kits on the market that are more targeted to adult tastes or to kids’ tastes, Starrfield said Stouffer’s kits offer a balance between the two that everyone will be happy with. The kits currently come in four varieties: Roasted Tuscan style chicken, Braised Pork, Sesame Chicken and Beef and Broccoli.
In addition, the kits are large enough to ensure that two adults and two children have enough to eat, she said.
More family favorites
Stouffer’s meal kits are not the only way the company is catering to families’ needs. It also is offering new varieties of its family-sized Simply Crafted line, Starrfield said.
“This line is really created for consumers who are looking for organic ingredients, no preservative and no-GMO ingredients. So, it is oriented to families who are really ingredient focused, and want to eat a flavorful meal that everyone will enjoy,” she said.
For example, she noted, the line includes modern takes on classic favorites, such as White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese and Spicy Pomodoro Penne.
Innovation for one
In addition to catering to families, Stouffer’s is expanding its offerings of single portion meals as well with the addition of new protein-packed bowls to the company’s Fit Kitchen brand.
“We are just launching the bowls and the proposition is that each meal has 20 or more grams of protein and is made with vegetables and carbs to help fuel performance,” Starrfield said.
She explained that the eight new bowls focus on whole ingredients, such as beef and broccoli or chicken and cashews, and come in a variety of flavors so that consumers can enjoy a different one each day without becoming board.
On that note, the company also is expanding its line of single-serve Urban Bistro meals, which are “all about going on a culinary adventure in the comfort of your own home,” Starrfield said.
She explained that each of the eight new meal have a “wow ingredient” from a different region. For example, the Kentucky bourbon glazed chicken has real Kentucky bourbon and the beer glazed meatballs have Alabama brown ale.
“There are premium ingredients with a unique story in every one of those recipes,” which really appeals to younger consumers who are looking for a culinary adventure, Starrfield said.
New products based on old-fashioned values
While these products may be new, the values on which these innovations are based are not.
When Mahala and Abraham Stouffer first launched in 1922 the buttermilk and cracker stand that would eventually grow into a restaurant chain before evolving into a line of frozen food they operated on the premise that diners should feel like guests, rather than clients, Starrfield explained. And, she added, “that is a value we bring forward today – putting our guests or customers first, and what they need.”
The company does that by taking time to get to know their customers – and their needs – by visiting them in their homes and following them to stores to see how they live and what types of innovation would make their lives easier, Starrfield said.
Another fundamental tenet of Stouffer’s that has been part of the company since the beginning is a focus on culinary innovation and bringing to consumers a level of expertise about flavors and foods, she said.
“So, at Stouffer’s today, we have what I would call continuous innovation. But it is not innovation for the sake of just doing new and different things. It is innovating against those two tenets,” which gives the brand the flexibility it needs to evolve with consumers’ constantly changing preferences, Starrfield said.
She added that by following these two guideposts Stouffer’s is able to focus only on where there is whitespace – allowing it to “create value versus parse value.”