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Vegetables in butter? Cream? Cheese? Fat-conscious consumers say 'ecch.' (frozen prepared vegetables industry cutting out fat-rich offerings)

American consumers didn't even wait for Homer to have his heart attack on The Simpsons: they began dropping calorie-rich prepared frozen vegetables as if they were a one-way ticket to the cardiac ward.

All those vegetables in cream, butter and cheese sauces that used to be the cutting edge of the category are being cut out: prepared vegetable sales for the quarter ended last Sept. 27 plummeted 32% compared to the same quarter a year earlier, according to data from Information Resources, lnc., Chicago, Illinois, appearing in the Wall Street Journal.

Green Giant, the largest brand in the prepared vegetable category, saw its sales plunge 62%. Birds Eye vegetables in sauce took a 26% hit. Even plain frozen vegetables didn't do that well for the quarter; a growing number of consumers, the Journal suggested, are going from frozen to fresh because they think fresh vegetables are somehow healthier for them.

"The consumer trend is to opt for fresh vegetables because they seem better for you," the paper quoted Linda Eatherton of Kraft General Foods, parent of Birds Eye. Although no figures for plain frozen vegetables were cited by the Journal, an Information Resources report in the Jan-Feb. issue of Private Label, sister publication of QFFI, shows store brand plain frozen vegetable sales off 4.47% in dollar terms and 3.93% in unit terms for the year ending Oct. 11.

One exception to the trend against prepared vegetables: Birds Eye's Easy Recipes line of vegetables in sauce to be sauteed with chicken or beef to create a main dish: sales soared 85% for that line, Information Resources reported.

AFFI Takes Exception

Steven C. Anderson, president of the American Frozen Food Institute, took exception to the Journal story in a letter Dec. i8. But while he called attention to the fact that consumers couldn't be turned off prepared vegetables entirely if they were buying that Easy Recipe line, his main concern was the implication that frozen vegetables generally are not as "healthful" as fresh.

"The fact is, frozen vegetables are not only as nutritious as other forms of vegetables, but many varieties actually retain more of their vitamins due to the freezing process," Anderson wrote. Even prepared vegetables are a lot healthier than people seem to think they are, he added: when a press conference was held on new U.S. food labeling regulations, a mockup of a vegetables-in-sauce package with a panel reading "low fat" and "low cholesterol" was used.

Canadian Popsicle Maker

Pays for Nintendo Mania

Popsicle Industries Ltd., one of Canada's leading frozen novelty makers, has learned an expensive lesson: when you try to ride a hot fad, you risk getting burned. It all started in 1990 when the Burlington, Ontario-headquartered company launched a year-long promotion offering free Nintendo game cartridges to anyone who collected 15,000 points' worth of specially marked Popsicle sticks.

"The Nintendo cartridge was one of six available prizes we were offering with our Popsicle Pete's Powerstix point credit promotion," explained Gaetan Chabot, vice president. "We were working with a promotion house that estimated we would have to redeem about 600 cartridges. We felt that was a little low, so we budgeted for 1,200 cartridges."

That figure also greatly underestimated Nintendo's popularity. "The number of redemptions caught everyone by surprise," Chabot said. He reported that the company ended up sending out 3,800 cartridges and persuaded 3,000 other consumers to settle for alternate prizes.

Not Enough

The response was not enough to satisfy all those who sent in their points. A group of disgruntled parents registered a complaint with the Canadian government's Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs which investigated Popsicle Industries' marketing practices. In December, a guilty plea was entered in federal court to one charge of unduly delaying prize distribution under the government's Competition Act.

As a result, the company has agreed to provide the first 4,500 people who mail in their Popsicle Pete's Powerstix point credit certificates before Feb.27 their choice of Nintendo's three most popular games. The offer has been advertised in newspapers across the country.
COPYRIGHT 1993 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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