- Since Conagra announced the acquisition of Pinnacle Foods last summer for $10.9 billion, the company has invested significant resources in boosting the market share of three large Pinnacle brands: Birds Eye, Duncan Hines and Wish-Bone, according to the company’s latest earnings call transcript.
- In particular, Conagra has been focusing on Birds Eye to create innovative products like spiralized zucchini that capitalize on consumers’ desire for both convenience and carb replacements.
- Duncan Hines and Wish-Bone have both undergone innovation and renovation, according to CEO Sean Connolly, but consumers didn’t respond to the updates. But Conagra plans some tweaks to the strategy that he said will put them on track to growth. “Overall, the health of the big three Pinnacle brands is critically important and you can be assured that our teams have spent the last five months incredibly focused on each of them," he said on the earnings call. "There is definitely more work to do and it will take some time for customers to add our new innovation into their shelf resets."
Until recently, few areas in the food industry were as neglected as frozen. However, recently, there has been a resurgence in the category as food manufacturers have innovated products in that section to take advantage of recent trends — including low sodium, natural, sustainable and clean label.
After closing the Pinnacle acquisition at the end of last year, Conagra became the second-biggest U.S. frozen foods owner behind Nestlé. This bold bet on the frozen space comes while Conagra has been aggressively overhauling its own frozen foods lines. Banquet was refreshed by adding new packaging, introducing on-the-go sliders and debuting a new premium "mega" tier for people with big appetites, which is especially popular among millennials. Healthy Choice was given a similar refresh with high-energy power bowls and trendy new flavors, as well as meatless and breakfast options.
The addition of Birds Eye to the portfolio was another opportunity for the CPG manufacturer to retool a languishing brand and establish it as a modern meal option. To accomplish this, Conagra is taking a renewed focus on health and wellness-related products. In its latest earnings call, Connolly said the brand will “deliver a sequenced deluge of new Birds Eye products” over the next few quarters.
Reimagining Birds Eye as a healthy frozen option is a wise decision, although one that puts the brand in intense competition with other brands that are trying to win back consumers. In 2017, Green Giant, part of B&G Foods, debuted its own line of frozen spiralized vegetable noodles in stores nationwide. Those offerings helped increase sales of the company's frozen products by $11.1 million in the third quarter of 2018 compared to the same quarter one year earlier. Similarly, Del Monte Fresh and the Veggie Noodle Co. have jumped on the vegetables-replacing-carbs bandwagon with refrigerated spiral-cut vegetables.
Conagra is also working to give legacy brands Duncan Hines and Wish-Bone new life in center store. When it took on the brands, they were struggling for growth. Wish-Bone has been working to find the right branding for several years to convince consumers to try its better-for-you varieties. Duncan Hines had a recall for salmonella at the end of last year. It had launched mug cake mixes in 2017, attempting to meet consumer trends for convenience and indulgence.
“With this innovation, the Pinnacle team was clearly heading in the right direction. However, the execution of that innovation was not up to our standards,” Connolly said in the earnings call.
Now that these brands have access to Conagra’s deep knowledge of the packaged food space, innovation will be able to take place on a bigger scale to not only to tap into what the market is demanding, but also to more effectively expand the brands’ store presence and distribution.
This effort to make these three Pinnacle Brands category standouts seems to have resonated with shareholders. According to Bloomberg, after the third quarter earnings showed that Conagra’s integration and innovation is on track, Conagra’s shares are up the most since 1989.