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Focus on convenience

Food processors tout items to busy, health-conscious consumers

Food processors tout items to busy, health-conscious consumers

December 05, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

Can't get your kids to eat vegetables?

Need to make some deviled eggs for a party and want to skip hard-boiling and peeling the eggs?

Green Giant and Eggland are hoping to help.

Like other food processors, the companies keep an eye and an ear out for new ideas that could help consumers and that would sell well.

A walk through local grocery stores reveals plenty of new items ? they're usually flagged with a "new item" sign by the price on the shelf. However many of those new items turn out to be foods that aren't necessarily new, but are being made and sold by a different company.

Coming up with a new concept is more difficult.

Green Giant came up with the idea for its Giant Bites, lightly breaded veggie and sauce bites, by talking to consumers, said Pam Becker, spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Green Giant.

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Most Americans are aware they don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, Becker said. New products like Giant Bites are a way to "help (consumers) get what they know they should be getting."

Giant Bites are baked, not fried, and include three varieties ? all of which were being sold recently at Martin's Food Market on Dual Highway.

Going for convenience

One consumer priority the food industry has been increasingly targeting is convenience ? for instance, making products that allow busy consumers to prepare quick meals at home.

Hard-boiled eggs aren't original, but usually you don't find peeled hard-boiled eggs sold in the supermarket in a resealable bag. Eggland's Best is one of at least two companies selling eggs this way.

Eggland is known for its eggs that are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat, said Charlie Lanktree, president and chief executive officer for Eggland's Best. Their chickens are fed an all-vegetarian diet that includes a proprietary formula of sea kelp, Vitamin E, alfalfa meal and rice bran.

The company sold hard-cooked eggs ? still in their shell ? to convenience stores in the mid-1990s, but shipping wasn't efficient, Lanktree said.

Wanting to make hard-boiled eggs more convenient for consumers, they looked into selling them peeled. The packaging process was the main obstacle as Eggland had to find a company with machinery to cook, peel and package the eggs. The resealable bag and a small amount of preservative give the eggs an eight-week shelf-life, Lanktree said.

It took less than six months to take the product from concept to marketing the eggs in Michigan last year. This included in-home testing in which a research firm kept track of how many of the eggs consumers ate each week, Lanktree said.

Eggland sold the peeled eggs in Florida last March and slowly has been expanding its market, he said.

Convenience isn't limited to food itself.

One of the best-selling new products at Martin's Food Markets in the Hagerstown area has been Reynolds Handi-Vac, an inexpensive, battery-operated vacuum sealer that costs $9.99, said Jeremy Rodriguez, store manager of Martin's on Dual Highway.

Vacuum sealers remove air from plastic bags containing food in order to prevent freezer burn.

Vacuum sealers cost as much as $70 in some stores, Rodriguez said.

The health angle

Several new items promote the inclusion of omega 3 fatty acids or DHA, which is fish oil-based omega 3.

Smart Balance came out with an Omega line of buttery spreads this past summer. David McCarty, Smart Balance's director of marketing, said the spreads contain two types of omega 3s ? one found in fish oil and one found in seeds or plants such as flax.

McCarty said the company first got requests to add omega 3s to its products at a 2004 national convention for dietitians. "A lot of them came and said 'My patients really need more omega 3 in their diet,'" he said. "'Why don't you think of creating a product with that?'"

According to the Mayo Clinic's Web site, there is evidence that certain omega 3 fatty acids taken in recommended ways give health benefits that include lowering blood pressure slightly and slowing the buildup of plaque that hardens arteries.

Smart Balance cannot make such specific claims for the buttery spread Omega line, McCarty said, because the Food and Drug Administration won't permit those claims to be made once omega 3s are mixed with other ingredients such as saturated fat. All buttery spreads that McCarty is aware of, including Smart Balance, contain saturated fat. Saturated fat provides the smooth texture in buttery spreads.

McCarty claims Smart Balance omega 3 products improve the cholesterol ratio ? decreasing bad cholesterol and improving good cholesterol levels. The Omega line includes regular and light spreads made with extra virgin olive oil. Smart Balance already produced a buttery spread that contains olive oil, McCarty said; the Omega spread contains extra virgin olive oil, and the olive-oil flavor is more noticeable.

"Olive oil sales are leaping off the shelves ... We wanted to tap into that," McCarty said.

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