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Fast Fries latest new product innovation in H.J. Heinz Co. 57-plus variety lineup.

Talk about fast-breaks in basketball; H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, is making a fast break in frozen potatoes, with what the company's chairman, Anthony J.E O'Reilly, calls "the hottest new product" in the category

Fast Fries, lightly-cooked shoestring potatoes that can be prepared in just minutes in a conventional oven, were rolled out Oct. 5. "This will be the first time that the taste and texture of a McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's French fry can be created in American homes," O'Reilly boasted at a recent stockholders' meeting.

"Perhaps the most striking thing about this development is that Fast Fries was conceived as an idea only last March, and the line is now rolling out from coast to coast," he beamed. "To someone who has been in the food industry for 31 years, this is simply extraordinary, and it is a harbinger of things to come." Heinz's Ore-Ida unit, which developed Fast Fries, accounts for 46% of the frozen potato market in the United States.

Made from premium-quality Russet potatoes, Fast Fries are billed as "crispy on the outside and tender on the inside." Ore-Ida hopes to broaden its customer base by appealing to fast food restaurant customers who devour some 3.5 billion pounds of french fries per year. Packaged in polybags, the product is available in 18 ounce ($1.59) and 36 ounce ($2.69) sizes.

It's been a long time since H.J. Heinz created a new market by introducing ketchup to America, and almost as long, it seems, since the company he founded had 57 varieties of products (mostly soups, pickles, beans and the like). Its Weight Watchers unit alone was able to increase frozen entree volume by 26.2% last year, to reach 11.8% of the reduced calorie entree category. Not content with that, it has launched a line called Smart Ones - entrees with only one gram of fat each (See QFFI, July 1992).

"The reaction from the retail trade and the public is really enthusiastic," said O'Reilly of the Smart Ones launch, which involves 10 items to start. "The usual time for distribution of a new food product is 16 to 22 weeks. Smart Ones have done it in four weeks, and are moving off the shelves as soon as they arrive." Weight Watchers, he added, has also done well with Ultimate 200, a 200-calorie line introduced earlier last year, and squelched the competition in low-calorie frozen breakfasts with a ten-item line for people who often eat on the go.

Personal Cuisine, yet another Weight Watchers line, will be available in Weight Watchers diet and fitness centers this April. Weight Watchers also accounts for some 32% of the sales in low-calorie frozen desserts, and introduced five new items this year (including Caramel Fudge a la Mode and Mississippi Mud Pie), in addition to four rolled out at the end of 1991. And international sales of Weight Watchers are taking off, especially in Europe; worldwide, they accounted for $1.8 billion of the $7 billion Heinz took in last year. Not bad for an investment that cost $100 million in 1978.

Other Heinz activities on the frozen food front include the integration of companies it had previously acquired into its organization: Chef Francisco is now part of Heinz USA, Delicious Foods and Oregon Farms part of Ore-Ida and Omstead part of Heinz Canada; all three came to Heinz as part of JL Foods. Yet another acquisition is Sausville Foods, a frozen muffin company On the international front, Heinz has gotten its foot in the door of Eastern Europe through a joint venture in Hungary called Magyar Foods - and beefed up its presence in the Asia/Pacific region with the acquisition of Wattie's in New Zealand (see story, page 154),
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Title Annotation:frozen french fries that taste like the fast food restaurant variety
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Product Announcement
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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