The package is white with a beauty shot of the snack (and the inside of the snack) on the front. The wording All Natural appears above the brand and Gourmet Quality is on either side of the Alexis Snack name. It includes a description of pesto chicken in a smaller font. A ribbon proclaims "0g trans fat."
Taste, appearance, aroma and ease of preparation/eating are critical to the integration of a frozen snack into a consumer's lifestyle. Most of our tasters thought the package and its directions were created for young to middle-age adults, not kids, since the directions did not include pictures and had fairly small font sizes. The size and appearance of the pizza snack was similar to other pizza snacks.
When tasters bit into the pizza snacks they experienced a light, flavorful filling. Unlike other pizza snacks, which coat the inside of your mouth with a sweet "tomatoey" taste, these pizza snacks provided a light pesto-oil flavor and then a mild mozzarella flavor. The chicken is small, white in color, mild and delicate in flavor providing the sensation of eating protein, but not a lot of flavor.
Alexia's flavors are less overbearing than those of traditional pizza flavors and so create a lighter taste. This translates for many tasters into a perception of healthiness. The flavor was considered different (more real?) and unique. It was more likely to go with a lighter beverage (water, citrus) than a heavier (cola) beverage.
The outer crust was considered good, flavorful and not greasy. However, once the tasters became more familiar with the flavor (after a couple of pieces), they began to question the "real" healthiness of the snack. All natural is so undefined for many consumers that, while it can provide a point of difference in the short run, health-conscious consumers are looking for "real" differences.
The hard numbers don't add up to healthy. Alexia's product has 210 calories per serving, 90 of those from fat, 10g of total fat, 2.5g of saturated fats and 10mg of cholesterol. Totino's are 200 calories per serving, 70 from fat, 8g of fat, 2g of saturated fat and 5mg of cholesterol. However, Alexia did beat Totino's on sodium (210mg vs. 480mg). And, at least as of this writing, Totino's still had 1.5g trans fat, while Alexia had none.
Our tasters were searching for why this pizza snack was really different. They wanted to compare the Alexia product to Totino's. Since the experience is about the product on its own, we didn't compare. While there were taste cues and package cues, the pizza snacks were perceived as similar. It was hard to know what the Alexia snack was, other than a new flavor.
Does the product deliver?
Alexia snacks are about bringing ingenuity to the category and serving up different/special flavor in very little time. These products deliver something different to a familiar category. By placing it at a retailer that already is associated with health, that connection is implied. And they do shout "0g trans fat."
How to make the idea bigger: This product provides some different choices for the consumer. While other frozen snack brands have chosen more familiar flavors and cuisine styles, Alexia is providing premiumness via its unique take on flavors and the lightness of the products. This is on trend for many consumers.
However, at some point health-conscious consumers will turn over the box and compare. Alexia is ahead of some competitors with all-natural and trans fat-free claims. But the company must deliver better numbers on the ingredient panel.
Another approach would be changing size and shape - but that would change it from a pizza snack to another product. So Alexia could do what is natural throughout the category of appetizers and develop different forms. That way health-conscious consumers can have a nice "pupu" platter.
Rating: Alexia Pizza Snacks does deliver something different to the category with unique flavors and health cues. This is an innovative way to focus the consumer on their choice of snacking and its healthiness. And the company has leveraged a retailer relationship to drive a difference in health perception of the product versus competing brands.
Market potential: Given the marriage of unique flavor and health cues with the location of purchase, this one is positioned to do well. But others will study and follow. Look for new flavors -- and health claims --by other pizza snack makers.
Hollis Ashman is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley is president of the Understanding & Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. For more information, see www.theuandigroup.com.