Pillsbury Perfect Portions Buttermilk Biscuits

General Mills/Pillsbury aims for convenience with Perfect Portions Buttermilk Biscuits – and comes up just short.

By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors

As the fad with high-protein diets declines, consumers are rediscovering how carbohydrate-based foods can fulfill their comfort needs, especially those foods with a history and story to tell. Additionally, there is a segment of consumers who find eating a serving of bread is an important part of any meal.

General Mills' Pillsbury unit noticed a trend in ultra-convenience from a key part of its business portfolio: refrigerated cookie dough. Sales have been driven by consumers who wanted a few, fresh cookies at one time. Sales have grown at double digits for the past three years for Pillsbury's cookie dough business, and those lines now exceed $100 million in annual sales.

So Pillsbury looked to leverage this trend in its refrigerated biscuit dough in a format that would allow consumers to bake a few fresh biscuits at a time. Perfect Portions dough packs are available in packages of five twin packs for preparation in conventional or toaster ovens. In Buttermilk and Butter Tastin' flavors, they are refrigerated with a shelf life of 40 days.

How far did Pillsbury take this idea of convenience, and is it enough to motivate consumers to bake biscuits for themselves?

Understanding the marketplace

The refrigerated dough category is valued at about $1.6 billion, according to Bakingbusiness.com, with Pillsbury (now owned by General Mills) and Earthgrains (a brand of Sara Lee) owning practically the entire market. Pillsbury has clearly dominated this niche for a long time.

However, there has been a downward trend in sales in this category for a number of years – declining 1-1.5 percent per year, according to Information Resources Inc. Plus, last year's low-carb fad made this an even more difficult category. Nevertheless, areas of growth have been in products with more convenience and better longevity of freshness.

The archetype in this category is dough in a tube, yielding six to eight biscuits. While fun for the kids to open and place on the baking sheet, it's no longer much of a factor in a society where married couples with children account for less than one in four families (according to Sam Roberts' 2004 book 'Who We Are Now"). And as tasty as Grands or Hungry Jack biscuits are from the hot oven, day-old home-baked goods are not known for their freshness nor quality.

Hot biscuits are popular at many times of day – for breakfast, with dinner, as a cocktail component, as a really great part of a weekend breakfast or brunch. But how does one get that single or double sausage-and-biscuit meal in the morning at home when you're in a hurry? And who wants to throw the rest of the can away?

Convenience orientation has been a key area of general product growth. In 2004, new products focused on convenience totaled 993, up 16.3 percent, according to ProductScan Online. So why not find a way to get convenient with refrigerated dough?

Pillsbury is adapting what it learned in another category about household size and portion requirements to deliver fresh-baked biscuits in a highly convenient manner.

Perfect Portions packages contain five twin packs of oven-ready dough. In Buttermilk and Butter Tastin' flavors, they are refrigerated with a shelf life of 40 days.


Consumers are seeking premium, convenient foods that are available when they want them, in the amount they want, for the meals they want to create. But what is convenient?

Our It!s Convenient and Crave It! insights integrate 30 or more conjoint studies to generate a database that can be used to understand the experience of foods -- from product, health benefits or secondary aspects, emotions, and brands/ benefits. These studies tell us convenient breads are about toppings, eating on the run, packaging so it stays hot and fresh, texture, natural, tastes and smells that say freshly made. Craveable breads are about fresh from the oven, with a side of butter, texture, homemade and artisan.

The key attributes for convenient bread are taste, aroma, appearance and good-for-me aspects. The key attributes for craveable bread are aroma, taste, thirst and texture. Interestingly, our consumers rated good taste as most important when the bread is convenient, and aroma was on top when the bread is craveable. Aroma is closely linked with memory. Consumers are looking for a familiar experience to enhance their center-of-the-plate meal. Bread is consumed at dinner, lunch and breakfast as part of a meal for most Americans.

The key trends in breads have been packaging/convenience and healthfulness.

Packaging/convenience: Breads have been easier for the consumer to make with choices of frozen, refrigerated tubes, par-baked and fresh. All of these have assumed the consumer was feeding a large number of people at a given meal. As consumers increasingly eat on the run and census data shows small households as the largest and fastest growing segment in the country, breads have needed to meet this trend, coming ready to make in a smaller format and with various cooking, timing and preparation options to fit with family meals. They also need to address grazing and the use of bread as a snack itself.

Healthfulness: When the low-carbohydrate fad caused declines in all grain products in 2004, manufacturers responded with product innovations that were poorly accepted. Modification of fat and whole grain emphasis appears to have a bit more favor with the consumer and is more broadly supported by the industry.

The experience

Pillsbury Perfect Portions Biscuits are available in two flavors, Buttermilk and Butter Tastin', in the grocery store refrigerated case. Suggested retail price is $2.99 per box of five twin-packs (10 biscuits).

The package is styled to resemble a bakery box with a window so consumers can see the biscuits in their twin packs. The box is the standard Pillsbury blue with a beauty shot of a biscuit with butter melting on it. A hazy light blue suggests the aroma of "fresh" baked biscuits. A burst suggests that you "Bake two at a time. Anytime!"

To prepare the product the consumer must preheat the oven to 350°F (if not, the biscuits do not rise), place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet, then bake for 14-17 minutes (12 minutes in a toaster oven). These biscuits bake at about the same temperature as most meals and so can be made with them, without the waste and mess associated with a whole sheet of tube biscuits. Spanish language instructions are included on the package.

The two-packs are easy to open and easy to place on the baking sheet. The size is big, just like Grands, and has a pleasant slightly caramelized grain note mixed with a buttery fragrance when removed from the oven after baking. The biscuit is flaky with layers and a moist, slight salty taste. They are light in mouth texture, and while they don't completely melt in one's mouth, they break apart easily and swallow nicely. There is no lingering leavening system taste. You get your fingers a little greasy when handling this rich biscuit.

Our tasters were impressed with the flaky texture and ease of use. So impressed, they started thinking about kids and after-school snacking. But after they realized they could not be made in the microwave, they were less enthusiastic about the after-school snacking potential. Some of our tasters are already dealing with smaller or empty-nest households and commented that was the reason they began buying frozen rolls. They could just reach in and take out a couple of rolls (no waste) and bake them.

The next comment was price. The price for these convenient biscuits is 1.5 times the price of frozen biscuits. Most tasters with kids felt the price would push them back to frozen rolls. Families without children liked the twin pack but wondered if these would be good in the refrigerator for a prolonged time.

The level of calories was not trivial. An individual biscuit was 200 calories with 90 calories of fat. The ingredient statement was a long list of ingredients that most consumers could not pronounce. Most tasters commented that while types of diets are cyclical, concern over fat and calories will not go away.

Overall, while our tasters thought Perfect Portions buttermilk biscuits tasted good, they were not sure they would really make these a part of their lives due to the price and quantity.

Does the product deliver?

The Pillsbury brand and its Doughboy stand for superior quality and easy preparation, a "fresh-from-the-oven" experience with great taste and tantalizing aroma. The aroma of these biscuits while baking was not strong and is unlikely to pull the household into the kitchen with comments of 'mmmm, that smells good." But these are of superior quality. And the preparation is easy -- if you view 14-17 minutes on a baking sheet as quick and easy.

The product delivers on the promise and could be a good purchase choice for smaller households that don't want the six-eight pack tube in their homes due to waste. There are some opportunities to make this idea even bigger.

How might Pillsbury provide this biscuit in an even more convenient form? Give us the flavor and texture of Perfect Portions but prepared more quickly. Perhaps par-baked. Is there any chance to make these microwavable? That would really move these into the consumer-defined view of convenience.

In the snacking world, the number of easy-to-make, fresh, wholesome snacks is small. Move this very tasty product along that curve and Pillsbury/General Mills has a really useful, convenient product.

Rating: The product and package deliver on the promises.

Market Potential: Good. The package is easy to store and open for consumers with smaller families. It allows consumers to begin to think about using rolls/biscuits in more occasions. Perfect Portions is a good start, but more development is needed to get to the consumer's definition of convenience.

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