Barilla , we know them for there familiar blue boxes of pasta and their high quality line of pasta sauces. However Barilla Microwaveable Meals? And on the shelf and not in the frozen food aisle where we buy are read meals? I had to call the company to get some insight into this new product launch and why in particular they opted for shelf-stable meals? The Shelf Stable Meal Category is at $2 Billion… dwarfed by the mammoth Frozen Meals category weighing in at $8 Billion. And the major player in shelf stable meals is Kraft Mac & cheese!
What Were the Consumer Trends That Supported New Product Development of Barilla Microwaveable Meals?
A convergence of trends supported the launch of this product: the increase of the time starved consumer, the need for quick convenient meal solutions and the desire for quality and nutrition. "Many convenient meal options are available to consumers today; however, these options tend to not be flavorful, are made with a long list of ingredients (many unrecognizable) and include preservatives. Additionally, many of these options require 4-6 minutes for preparation and/or require refrigeration/freezer which may be a challenge when preparing these meals at the office." according to the company.
Developing the Brand Positioning
Given the confluence of trends, time starved consumers, a desire for healthier meal options and a " clean label"(which means ingredients you can understand), the under-developed shelf stable meal category was ready for the high quality Barilla Microwaveable Meals. So their brand positioning to their customer segments is … shelf stable meals with product superiority and quality, the same focus of 100% natural ingredients in their dry pasta and jarred sauces, ready in only 60 seconds, delivering a delicious and nutritious meal is conveniently available anytime and anywhere.
Culturally, US consumers are not accustomed to shelf stable as consumers in other parts of the world, so what factored into this as shelf stable vs. frozen?
Convenient meals in the US are either frozen or refrigerated. In many part of the world consumers are used to buying shelf stable versions of products we are accustomed to seeing in the refrigerated or frozen food aisle. An example is Parmalat Milk, popular throughout the world but did not really catch on here in the US. Why? Because we are accustomed to milk being chilled and consumed cold.
Barilla says that the "shelf stable format provides a higher level of convenience. Developed with busy professionals in mind, Barilla Microwaveable Meals are shelf stable so consumers can throw them into their bag on their way out the door, or keep a supply in their desk drawer."
What are the innovative aspects of this new packaging?
Are you familiar with Faige Greek Yogurt that comes in the dual compartment plastic cup… one side is yogurt and the other side is the fruit? Well, Barilla Microwavable Meals are packaged in two separate trays - one for pasta and one for the sauce - to maintain taste, texture, and freshness. Great idea since pasta goes a bit limp when it is in sauce for any length of time. Additionally, the packaging enables consumers to customize their meal (determine how much sauce they want on their pasta). The dual tray packaging was developed specifically for this product offering and is patented.
What were factors that convinced the supermarket buyer to put this on the shelf?
According to Barilla "Retailer response on Barilla Microwaveable Meals has been extremely positive with several key customers including Publix and Safeway re-setting their shelves outside of the scheduled category review timeframe to get these meals on the shelves as quickly as possible." What many new food entrepreneurs don't realize is the vast majority of retailers review and re-set the category once or MAYBE twice a year… being accepted outside of the buying calendar time frame is a real testament to the uniqueness of the product line. Remember that supermarket retail buyers always want you to show them "something they do not have!".
Enthusiasm is also very strong in alternative channels such as Wal-mart, Target, and Club. Category Buyers in these channels think Barilla Microwaveable Meals with its quality and convenience will reverse the declining trends in shelf stable meals.
How does social media factor into new product development?
Barilla leveraged social media to introduce the launch and give away free product on Barilla website and Facebook page. Barilla is using social media to help determine future varieties. Consumers have posted many praises on the Barilla Facebook page.
Barilla apparently invested in reaching out to mommy bloggers through the fitfluential ambassadors program… a site that engaged many mommy bloggers. These social influencers have a great deal of sway in influencing the purchasing decisions of busy moms. Using Mommy Bloggers is fast becoming to choice for consumer food companies and brands like McDonalds increasingly rely on these influencers for new product development and launch insights.
All the advertising in the world can't replace authentic endorsements such as MomItForward blogger TinaReal: " I was glad to have the Barilla Microwaveable Meals for those moments. I truly did like them and feel good enough about the ingredients and nutrition that I would use them again. I honestly think they are one of the better tasting options of microwaveable meals out there…and without the freaky ingredients."
With over 25 positive comments to tinareal's blog post, you think there was strong social word of mouth?
I should be embarrassed but Im so so notnot.
THE HUSBAND LOVES THESE!!!
can't wait to try these. i need to add them to my grocery list right now. i am thinking they will make great lunches. thanks tina!
I probably never would have looked at these, assuming they would have a bunch of crazy ingredients. Maybe I'll get a package or two to keep on hand for those crazy nights, because you're right, they DO happen! Thanks for the review!