What’s hot in frozen foods

By Barrie Dawson

Frozen food manufacturers are heating up with new ideas, including products and packaging. 

The foods may be frozen, but the manufacturers are rarely sitting still.

Some manufacturers are trying to increase their distribution networks or are suggesting new ways for retailers to merchandise the frozen aisle. Others are introducing new products, sizes or packages.

m&c_casserole_300Everything at Momma B’s Mac & Cheese is new because the company is less than a year old. The Boynton Beach, Fla.-based company offers three styles of macaroni and cheese—homestyle, pepper jack and truffle.

Momma B’s was launched in March at the Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing show in Napa Valley, Calif., and sold products there to Associated Foods. Hope DeLong, sales and marketing director, estimates that 1,400 stores nationwide—with the heaviest concentration being in the Southeast as well as Central and Western states such as Nebraska and Utah—now carry the Momma B’s line.

“We are moving very rapidly into building a complete comfort food entrée line,” DeLong says. “We’re launching in the fourth quarter a chicken and biscuit pie. It’s like a chicken potpie, but it’s our comfort food version of it. Then, we have probably five or six more entrées that will come on line in 2014.”

The Momma B’s Mac & Cheese line is available in individual (11-ounce) and family (30-ounce) sizes and they are made from all natural  ingredients without preservatives. Suggested retail price for the individual portion is $3.99 and $7.99 for the family size.

“There is no resemblance between our product and the current leaders in this category,” says DeLong, who adds that Momma B’s plans to offer a gluten-free mac and cheese next year. “If you put our mac and cheese on the table, you could almost say you baked it yourself. We’re using the highest quality cheeses. It’s very retro. The feel of this line—it truly is home style.”

Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods more than shares Momma B’s interest in natural foods. The Elmwood Park, N.J.-based company’s array of products emphasizes the notion that nutritious, all-natural foods can taste good too. With Whole Foods as its top retail outlet, Dr. Praeger’s foods are available nationwide, but the company wants to expand its retail distribution reach.

Alli Meyer, senior brand manager, says Dr. Praeger’s products have wide distribution in the natural foods channels but that its distribution in traditional supermarkets is much greater along the East Coast than along the West Coast.

“Distribution is our biggest growth opportunity, but we’re constantly innovating,” Meyer says. “One of the big initiatives we have this year has been a logo change and rebranding. We lightened our logo up and made it a little less clinical looking.”

Dr. Praeger’s also launched two burgers this summer, an Asian burger and a Thai burger. Meyer says the Asian has gotten the better pickup thus far, but the Thai burger has been gaining. Dr. Praeger’s also has product launches slated for January. “We’re looking at two new items but we can’t discuss them yet,” she adds.

Meyer says the signature item on the Dr. Praeger’s menu is the California Veggie Burger, one of the nine styles of veggie burgers shown on its website. Meyer says it is not soy-based as many veggie burgers are. Instead carrots are its main ingredient. Dr. Praeger’s also has a product line for children that includes Potato Crusted Fishies, which are gluten-free.

Down Mexico way
Ruiz Foods’ El Monterey brand offers families its frozen taquitos and burritos, which are high in protein, contain real cheeses and fresh vegetables and have zero trans fat. The taquitos are available in four flavors, including the egg, bacon and cheese breakfast variety. The Dinuba, Calif.-based company also offers El Monterey family pack burritos and chimichangas. In addition to the El Monterey brands, Ruiz Foods manufactures the Tornados brand as well.

Under the El Monterey brand, Ruiz recently introduced two flavors of Shell Shockers Taquitos, which are corn taquitos filled with chicken. The nacho cheese and jalapeno ranch flavors are available nationally. Each carton contains two inner bags, which hold 12 taquitos apiece.

“We are already very happy with the reception they are receiving,” says Rachel Cullen, the president and chief executive officer at Ruiz Foods.

Ruiz is changing the packaging of its entire El Monterey eight-flavor taquito line from a bag to a box containing bags. The newest flavor in the group is a 28-count box of Cheesy Pepper Jack Corn Taquitos. Six of the eight varieties contain 28 taquitos, while the other two hold 24. El Monterey is also switching from bag to box packaging for its two Mini Chimi flavors. One is nacho cheese and beef; the other is chicken and cheese.

Packaging is part of the appeal for Delizza Patisserie’s cream puffs and mini éclairs. Fred Liggero, vice president of sales and marketing for the Battleboro, N.C.-based company, says the container that holds the pastries is unique because it preserves them.

“A lot of times you have items in the frozen foods section that are in boxes, and the odors of freezers tend to permeate through that packaging and negatively impact the taste of the product,” he says.

Delizza’s cream puffs and mini éclairs are filled with a high concentration of heavy cream, not the pudding some others use. Its two Belgian mini éclairs have vanilla or chocolate cream inside. One of its two cream puff products comes dipped in chocolate.

“We’re just starting to launch a strawberry-filled mini éclair,” says Liggero. “It’s chocolate-covered with a white drizzle. The filling is strawberry cream. We’re just putting that out there now to see how it goes and where it goes.”

Delizza also offers a variety pack at holiday time, when Liggero says the company does 30% to 35% of its annual business. The variety pack sells for about $1 more than any one of Delizza’s four products, but gives customers a sampling of all of them.

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