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Product Spotlight: Pot (pie) of gold

March 29, 2004
Hot Pockets artfully re-creates a 1950s classic for the new millennium

Pot pies were the convenience foods of the 1950s. When mom and dad went out, you got pot pies. They were special, individualized reminders of how much your parents cared. They represented special times.

Last year, Nestle Prepared Foods Co. leveraged the crust and microwave technologies of its Hand-held Foods Group and Hot Pockets brand to create a hand-held version of pot pies that is good tasting, basic, nostalgic, comfort food. There is nothing like it in the frozen, refrigerated, fresh or fast food worlds.

Pot pies are not overtly healthy. They contain lots of fat along with the protein from chicken and the healthy vegetables. Even today, they take a long time to cook: usually 45-50 minutes. Microwaving often is not an available option. After cooking, the pot pie requires a fork, and you must sit down to eat it. All liabilities in this speeded-up world.

Hot Pockets saw the opportunity to deliver a 1950s-style, convenient, comfort food, but update it with a hand-held version that was microwaved and could be eaten on the go. Pot Pie Express was launched in July 2003 and has been rolling out nationally over the past several months.

Hot Pockets Pot Pie Express comes two sandwiches to a package, total weight 9 oz., for $2.69. Flavors are chicken, turkey, and chicken and broccoli. A crisping sleeve allows the crust to crisp, and the microwave directions are written so even a child or stressed adult could figure out how long to cook multiple sandwiches.

The pie crust is warm and crispy, not the level of crispy of a 45-minute baked pot pie, but close enough to get the textural differentiation between the crust and the filling. The filling was chunky chicken, identifiable vegetables, and a very thick gravy. While crispy, the crust did not flake all over your clothes. Walking, driving, or moving with the sandwich did not result in messiness. You could eat this and drive.

Hot Pockets Pot Pies are 340 calories per sandwich (4.5 oz) with 18 grams of fat and 9 grams of protein. The only comparisons are traditional frozen pot pies. Banquet's 7-oz. pie has 400 calories with 23 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. Marie Callender's 10-oz. pot pies are 670 calories with 40 grams of fat and 19 grams of protein.

Hot Pockets Pot Pies were priced similar to the premium brand, whereas bargain brands of pot pies were much cheaper , typically 99 cents. Consumers must integrate portion size, calories, fat levels, protein levels, crust types and price levels to figure out which one to purchase.

While one Hot Pockets Pot Pie might not fill you up, you could always add a side dish to further satisfy your hunger without adding the additional calories and fat of the other pot pie options.

Does it deliver the brand promise?
This brand is about hand-held, quick and easy, warm and on the go. This pot pie is easy to eat while moving and provides a new benefit of fast comfort food that is not available in the market place.

It looks good after cooking and does not create a mess on the go. Kids and stressed adults can easily fulfill their need for comfort food quickly and safely. This one delivers on the promise.

How to make it bigger
While this is a product that delivers on its promise, there are some opportunities to make it even bigger. The interior filling is not well differentiated in terms of flavors and textures. Chicken chunks that had more chicken integrity would give texture differentiation. A few more veggies would increase the perceived health halo and also provide more visual appeal. Since the current pot pie is so pleasing, perhaps this product version could becomes the premium variety?

While the portion size is a little small if this is all you are eating, a typical response would be to make a mid-sized portion that would fill up more consumers. The trade-off with this option is that you drive the product to even more calories and fat, and the current portion size is a better choice for the pot pie consumer than a whole premium pot pie.

Other health benefits that could improve the product are less about the fat content and more about enhancing the amount of fiber. Hot Pockets has 3 grams and could increase this through more vegetables and other formulation choices in both the crust and the filling.

Rating: The product delivers on the promises.

Market Potential: Great. A new category has been created: on-the-go Mom food! This is comfort food fast and good enough to satiate most consumers who can't wait and have the taste for a warm pot pie.

Hollis Ashman ([email protected]) is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley ([email protected]) is president of the the Understanding & Insight Group. The U&I Group is a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using a variety of both quantitative and qualitative in-context approaches to understand the brand promise and the actual experience the product delivers. More about them can be found at www.theuandigroup.com. Crave It!, Drink It!, Healthy You! and other foundational studies are availabe through It! Ventures and on the web at www.consumerunderstanding.net.


Meal preparation time

Less time and fewer cooking skills have reduced the time allotted to dinner -- both the preparation and the consuming. Some 60 percent of consumers aged 18-34 years old said they didn't have the time for all the fuss, versus just 33 percent for people more than 55 years old, according to 2003 A.C. Nielsen figures. Similarly, 56 percent of households with annual incomes exceeding $50,000 also said they were too busy for long-form meal preparation versus 41 percent of households making less than $25,000 a year.

Frozen prepared and semi-prepared meals are one solution. In 2003, the frozen meal market was estimated at $7.6 billion and is perceived to be fairly mature. Sales for frozen pot pies were $324 million, an increase of 2.8% over the previous year. Convenience is expected. Value, taste and health benefits are where most frozen food manufacturers have focused. As a result, the quality and sensory aspects of frozen foods have improved dramatically.

Healthy frozen meals are about being flavorful and zesty, traditional and home-style, hearty, and very much about the meat that is inside. The key attributes for a frozen meal are taste, price, portion size, appearance and amount of fat. Calories, brand, and convenience follow further behind.

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