New Food Product Spotlight: Oscar Mayer Deli Creations

Feb. 4, 2008
While no healthier than fast food, Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Complete Sandwiches delighted our taste testers with components and convenience in a hot package.

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.


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.

The sandwich components are listed to the left of the clear window: Oscar Mayer shaved cured roast beef, Kraft 2% Milk Reduced Fat Natural Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Kraft Steakhouse Sauce, Kraft Light Mayonnaise and country white sub roll. One side panel shows all five available varieties, while the other side panel shows a loaf of bread, apparently freshly baked and steaming hot, on a rustic cutting board with the statement “fresh baked taste in 60 seconds.”

Instructions for assembling the sandwich are on the bottom of the box. The sandwich components are “individually wrapped for freshness.” The cheese, meat and condiments are branded. Since the container for the meat is opaque, the consumer can’t see what is inside until the top is peeled off to reveal fairly rare looking shaved meat slices.

After removing all components, the consumer is directed to place the sub roll on the included microwaveable paper tray. “Build the sandwich however you like, using the meat, cheese and sauce”, and then microwave for 50-60 seconds. Using both of the provided condiments (steak sauce and mayo) on the sandwich together was thought to be unusual by some tasters, as well as putting mayo in the microwave.

After microwaving, the bread had a strong, pleasantly yeasty, freshly baked aroma that was liked by most. All were surprised at the softness of the bread after microwaving — toughness was expected. The flavor of the meat reminded some of corned beef rather than steak, which isn’t surprising since the meat is cured.

All were pleased that the box contained every component needed to create the sandwich, including the microwaveable tray — no searching for paper plate or settling for a paper towel in the microwave line at work. The sandwich was just the right size — not too much food and not too little — and was judged to be “much better than I thought a prepackaged build-your-own sandwich would be.”

Does the product deliver?

Oscar Mayer has always stood for the familiar and the kid-friendly: hot dogs, cold cuts and bacon. Deli Creations promises “the hot melty moment you deserve … in a microwave minute” all “for the love of lunch” with a fresh-baked taste.

Aromatic warm bread plus warm ingredients elevate a plain, familiar sandwich to special. This product makes cuisine-weary consumers happy with a warm, aromatic sandwich that delivers on filling you up. Cheese melted on top adds to the craveablity of the sandwich.

How to make the idea bigger: At 450 calories, 1,420mg of sodium (59 percent of the RDA) and 140 calories from fat, this product is comparable to eating a salty Quarter Pounder and Cheese. While this may taste healthy, it is not healthier than fast food. Since the consumer can choose not to add the cheese and sauces, letting the consumer know the trade-offs they are making while “creating” would be a way to give choices to health-conscious consumers.

While 3g of fiber is good, it is not a lot to deliver satiety. Most of the filling of the meal comes from the warmth, aroma and the chewing experience. This could be enhanced with more fiber, but there is a trade off on delivery of the soft sub bun.

Market potential: Good. With a little help from its Fast Franks microwave packaging technology, Kraft may have finally figured out how to bring adults into the Lunchables mindset. As long as sodium isn’t a concern, this product could fit into what many would consider a healthy diet. It’s faster than going out to the sandwich shop, but is not a healtheir alternative to traditional fast food if you consume everything in the box.

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