ConAgra Superpremium Canned Vegetables

ConAgra's Hunt's brand tries to create a superpremium category for canned vegetables.

By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors

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Healthfulness: Tomatoes have both the halo of health and reality of health. One medium, fresh tomato (about 5.2 ounces) has 35 calories and provides 40 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C and 20 percent of the recommended vitamin A. Lycopene has been linked to reducing the risk of cancer. Organic tends to be of great interest to those who like the idea, but is not of strong interest to mainstream consumers, according to our own It! data from 2003.

The experience

Hunt's Organic Diced Tomatoes are available in a 14.5 oz can for about $1.39. "Organic" is on a green leafy strip right below the Hunt's name, and the USDA organic seal is on the front of the label. The flavor - in this case, Basil, Garlic and Oregano - is called out. The type of tomato (diced) is also right on the front. The image of the tomatoes is drawn as opposed to a photograph. This gets to the idea that consumers are looking for an ideal of organic tomatoes, not necessarily the reality.

Aroma, flavor and texture are critical to the perception of quality and freshness of tomatoes. This product initially surprises. The taste is that of a fresh tomato. How can this be, since it came from a can? The appearance is bright red, also a signal of summertime, field-fresh tomatoes. However, there is no aroma when smelling the product at room temperature. The dices are well formed and of a good size for salsa or bruschetta.

Up to this point, everyone on our consumer panel was in agreement. Then opinions varied. Some of our evaluators wanted and expected a fresh texture - similar to chopped tomatoes in the summer. Why? The flavor was so intense and fresh. The color so red. Nevertheless, some were disappointed in the soft mouthfeel of the dices.

There were others who loved the product as-is and felt they could use this in a number of products. The appearance and flavor drove them to want to use these tomatoes in fresh dishes; and the soft texture made us want to work them into cooking applications. However, once using it in cooked applications, we ran out of recipes in which we were willing to trade off price for the use.

Oddly, the product is manufactured in Israel.

Does the product deliver?

Hunt's Organic Diced Tomatoes are trying to provide a premium product in terms of benefit, color and taste to offset the higher price (about three times the price of a regular can). It does not compete with fresh tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes should have great flavor and a crispy texture. And people believe they get that at certain times of the year. These canned tomatoes have great flavor but a soft texture. So we had confusion. The dilemma is how to use these canned tomatoes as they are.

Our consumers loved the fresh flavor but, if these tomatoes are going to be relegated to cooking, some wanted an even stronger flavor. So some of our consumers wondered why they should pay more for this product for delivering a benefit (farmstand-like freshness) they were not going to use. We concluded the idea is not holding up to the reality.

Hunt's is a brand that has focused on convenient products from the field. Hunt's Organic Diced Tomatoes are convenient, but they also lead consumers to a new space. It does deliver the flavor but not the expected texture of this space. Canned products have a value orientation. The flavor of this product is premium. But not the texture. Hunt's is only part way there. Great innovation, but not enough for the everyday consumer.

How to make the idea bigger

We think Hunt's has done well going into this space with an interesting product and application. Figuring out what the organic premium buyer really wants and needs is required. We think this buyer is probably sophisticated and expects the entire tomato experience – aroma, color, flavor AND texture of fresh organic tomatoes. But do they?

If consumers do, then this product is only partially there. If they don't, then this new product is a good start.

Rating: Hunt's Organic Diced Tomatoes (Basil, Garlic and Oregano) does deliver a premium taste experience. But not premium texture. This is a product space that few have been to, but this product may not have enough benefits to compete with fresh or other canned tomato products.

Market potential: Consumers have said they want this kind of a product, but when they are given it, they really wanted more. This product will struggle to find repeat customers.



About the Authors

Hollis Ashman (hollis@theuandigroup.com) is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley (jackie@theuandigroup.com) is president of the Understanding and Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm. For more information, see www.theuandigroup.com.

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