Key ideas that can impact the category are convenience, flavor and healthfulness.
Convenience: Manufacturers are responding to consumers' hectic lifestyles by creating packaging that assists convenience. Being able to cook in the plastic tray and not use cooking pots allows the consumer to have less mess and less cleanup.
Flavors: Adding seasonings and sauces to frozen vegetables saves the step of seasoning and reduces the number of items in the home pantry. This also gives meal prepares not only the appearance of knowing how to cook but a gourmet image. The flavors and sauces also fit with growth trends in the category; plain vegetables are down 1 percent, mixed vegetables are up 1.5 percent and vegetables in sauces are up 5.6 percent in sales.
Healthfulness: Vegetables have both the halo of health and reality of health. Fruits and vegetables are vigorously promoted because they offer a wide array of health benefits. They are leading sources of several essential nutrients, such as vitamins A and C and iron. In addition, diets rich in fruits and vegetables are associated with a decreased risk of several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Most fruits and vegetables are also naturally low in calories, although their value in weight-control efforts may depend on how these foods are prepared.
Birds Eye Steam and Serve Spring Vegetables in Citrus Sauce is available in a 10-oz. (2½ servings) tray for $2.69-2.99. On average, low-income households spent $3.59 per week on fruits and vegetables in 2000, while higher-income households spent $5.02, according to USDA/ERS data. So this price point is asking a lot.
The label has the Birds Eye logo on the front with a very large beauty shot of the vegetables: "carrots, asparagus, sugar snap peas and red peppers with zesty cilantro and lime." Steam and Serve is the brand, and an image in the lower left says "steam cooks in the microwave." At the bottom, the package proclaims: "steams to perfection in under 6 minutes."
The key to preparation, of course, is steaming. Steaming in other categories is all about fresh and healthfulness. This is a technology that consumers inherently perceive as healthy. The package was easy to microwave. No piercing was required, and the lift-off tab on the plastic overwrap was large enough to get the wrapper off.
Appearance, aroma, flavor and texture are critical to the perceptions of quality and freshness of vegetables. This product initially surprises. The texture is of fresh vegetables. They are crunchy, not mushy. The taste is strongly of the sauce of butter and lime. The perception of ease of cooking (no preparation, microwave cooking, no cleanup) is apparent.
For anyone who has had mushy, overcooked vegetables, this is a godsend - especially as consumers are becoming less aware of how to cook vegetables. The pieces of vegetables are good size, and the colors are bright.
Our taste-testers said the vegetables tasted great. Asparagus is difficult to cook for some, and this is good asparagus - crunchy and tasty. However, some felt this was like airplane food. Some testers wanted less of a mixture and more plain vegetables - but this is more an issue of personal preferences. For our vegetable gourmets, the product was no big deal - they could make it better themselves. For the rest/most of us, this was a very easy way to cook quality, delicious vegetables.
Does the product deliver?
Birds Eye is a brand has focused on making vegetables "an inspiration on your plate and in your life." The vegetables and sauce are chef-inspired. They deliver consistent cooked quality and sauces. The flavor is premium, as is the texture.
How to make the idea bigger? Maybe make it smaller. The package is 2.5 servings per container. Birds Eye could market this as an easy, warm snack that could get consumers (especially kids after school) to eat more vegetables. This would require a smaller package and consumers' acceptance of cooked vegetables as a snack. But we see the possibility.
Other opportunities are to bundle these with prepared meats so the meal is simple and complete. These other prepared meats must also cook in their (separate) containers so there is no prep, cooking is simple and cleanup involves just throwing away the packages. The creativity is in the presentation. This begins to compete on the level with restaurant take-home food.
The container is a size that, after cooking the vegetables, can also be the serving unit. It's also big enough that you could add rice (which might also be cooked in its microwave stand-up bag).
Rating: Birds Eye Steam and Serve Spring Vegetables in Citrus Sauce does deliver on taste and texture. This is a product space that few have been to.
Market Potential: Great! Great for the busy consumer, great way to get your vegetables.
About the Authors
Hollis Ashman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley (email@example.com) is president of the Understanding and Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm. See www.theuandigroup.com.