New Food Product Spotlight: Oscar Mayer Deli Creations

While no healthier than fast food, Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Complete Sandwiches delighted our taste testers with components and convenience in a hot package.

By Hollis Ashman, Jacqueline Beckley and Jennifer Maca, Consumer Understanding Editors

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The sandwich traditionally has been consumed under time or multitasking constraints. Its customizability can make it a more healthful alternative to fast food. Given the myriad of filling options available at the supermarket, the sandwich should be anything but boring. But what if you don’t even have enough time to pull out ingredients and assemble them to take along for lunch?

Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Complete Sandwiches have been created to fill the need for a hot and comforting lunch that requires no advance planning. For this review, we focus on Steakhouse Cheddar. The target consumer wants a premium product that can be made quickly without having to slow down his daily routine -- but he does not want to trade quality for speed.

In 2004 Americans ate an average of 4.1 sandwiches per week, with 2.8 of them purchased ready to eat. Annual sales of sandwiches are about $105 billion, according to Technomic.

Heated sandwiches contribute to the increase in sandwich consumption. If you’ve never been asked if you want your sandwich toasted, you probably haven’t visited any of the national sandwich chains recently.

Other trends in this category include bigger portions of meat, which average about 3.6-oz per sandwich. While the regional addition of quirky ingredients like french fries, cabbage slaw or even steamed green beans makes for interesting conversation while traveling, most consumers stick to the basics: ham, turke, or roast beef with Swiss, American or cheddar, which they are willing to pay a premium price for if the quality and freshness are high.

Typical retail packaging ranges from cellophane overwrap in supermarket delis to paper wraps and boxes. While boxed sandwiches speak well to premiumness, some consumers will express concern for an overabundance of packaging around something as “simple” as a sandwich

Branded sandwiches in the refrigerated section of the Grocery Store is a fairly new category. As consumers eat more and more of their calories out, retail grocery is competing head-to-head with fast food and quick-service restaurants. Fresh formats in the grocery store are competing with frozen and refrigerated.

This is the real battle line for gaining consumer choice for a convenience brand. Consumers can be drawn to ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat meal solutions and will use them to replace home cooking or dining out -- assuming that quality and variety aren't compromised

If you are the Oscar Mayer division of Kraft Foods, add to the mix the corporate pressures of maintaining a venerable meat brand, moving beyond selling meat to a bigger value proposition of a sandwich (which should mean more money to the bottom line) and standing out against competition, such as Sara Lee’s Hillshire Farm.

Beyond frozen Crustables from Smuckers, which are focused on kids, and frozen versions of wraps and calorie control sandwiches (Smart Ones, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Stouffers), branded refrigerated sandwiches and wraps is a new category to consumers. Oscar Mayer Deli and Kraft’s South Beach line are the few brands going beyond fresh store sandwiches to create an easy-to-fix meal for time-crunched consumers.

Insights

From our CraveIt!, It’s Convenient and Healthy You! databases, we find the key attributes that drive interest in convenient sandwiches are, in order: taste, appearance, aroma, price, portion size and ready to eat. When consumers have to make trade offs, the roast beef sandwich is all about the premiumness of the meat and fresh bread over other ideas, because a sandwich is not “just a sandwich” and the bread is not just a carrier anymore.

Bread is a highly craveable food and is an integral part of the sandwich experience. While cravings for most foods are driven by taste, cravings for bread are driven by aroma. It is of utmost importance in a heated sandwich, then, that the aroma of the bread is a pleasant one.

Meat and cheese craveability are driven by taste, so after you develop a great bread, you had better make sure the fillings you put in it are up to par as well. Sandwiches are eaten mostly at lunch, followed by dinner and then mid-afternoon occasions. This makes it clear that sandwiches are akin to a meal, and the need to stave off hunger is of utmost importance.

The top three purchase factors for sandwiches are cravings, quality/freshness and bread types. Playing into these needs is critical to market success of a pre-made sandwich. Innovative and premium ingredients that reflect current trends while staying in realm of the familiar are essential.

Expectations for quality and freshness for sandwiches have been driven by QSR and fast food formats. Delivering this level of quality and freshness in a branded refrigerated sandwich is not simple, as the bar has been set high. Heating the sandwich is a requirement to increase the flavor and texture contrast and deliver better against satiety.

Innovative and premium ingredients in sandwiches have followed culinary and market trends. Unusual additions of premium meats (black angus steak, prime rib), artisan breads (rosemary parmesan bread, whole wheat breads) unique toppings (red onions, sautéed onions, black olives) and specialty spreads (honey bourbon mustard, grill sauces, fancy vinaigrettes) all have moved sandwiches from familiar snacking to near-cuisine-level dining.

Sandwiches are now linked with healthy eating since spokesperson Jared focused on the low-fat levels of Subway’s sandwiches and his weight loss in comparison to other fast food.

The experience

Oscar Mayer Deli Creations are available in 6.8 to 7.1-oz. packages for about $3.99. We evaluated the Steakhouse Cheddar sandwich. Other varieties include Oven Roasted Ham & Cheddar, Turkey & Cheddar Dijon, Honey Ham & Swiss and Turkey Monterey.

The outer package consists of a heavy paper box with a clear window on the front along with a circle that highlights the words “hot & melty.” The front of the box also shows a steak and melted cheese sub sandwich wrapped in paper with “steakhouse cheddar” printed on it.

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