SALINAS, Calif. -- In partnership with Hillshire Farm, Fresh Express Farms is introducing a line of packaged salads complete with refrigerated ham and chicken, which both companies are calling an industry first.
Unlike at least one other complete salad line already on the market, the protein components of the salads will not be cured or shelf stable. That makes the products unique, according to Paul Cracknell, director of new product development for Fresh Express here. The line of "Ready-to-Go Entree Salads" will roll out nationally Sept. 16, and both companies suggest merchandising the salads in the produce department. "We're recommending retailers put this in the produce department, since 95% of all shoppers go through produce," he said. "It's the most fresh department, image-wise."
Cracknell declined to identify which retailers will carry the new product, or which area of the country it will debut in. He said the rollout will be "fairly significant," though. New technologies in packaging and meat formation are making the salads possible, according to Orinda Tims, marketing director of new products for Cincinnati-based Hillshire Farm. Citing competitive concerns, Tims declined to elaborate on what breakthroughs have made it possible to package refrigerated meats with salads. However, both Cracknell and Tims said the proteins should hold up better than the lettuce throughout the distribution channel. Cracknell said the salads will carry the same shelf-life as other Fresh Express salads, which is 14 days at 45 degrees.
Three varieties will be available: a chicken Caesar, a fat-free chicken Caesar and a chef salad.
Each salad will come in a portable two-compartment container that includes a packet of chicken and/or ham. Each package will also include a packet of dressing, garlic toast or breadsticks, a fork and a napkin. The suggested retail price is $3.99.
The salads offer a complete meal to the consumer, according to the companies. "This is definitely one way we're approaching meal solutions," said Tims.
Rather than test-marketing the new products, Fresh Express has conducted market research, said Cracknell. A salami product was originally included in the market research but consumers did not react well to the cured meat, he said.
The trade is reacting positively, Cracknell said. "Retail reaction has been real good so far."
Fresh Express and Hillshire Farm are operating a joint marketing campaign, with television ads, freestanding insert drops and print ads, Cracknell said. The trade program will include demonstrations and in-store coupons.
The ad campaign is scheduled to kick off in October and run through January 1997, Cracknell said.
Tims said Hillshire Farm is supporting the move to market the salads in the produce department. "We want to expand our brand equity into produce," she said. Working with a partner made it easier to bring this product to market, said Tims. Since Hillshire Farm specializes in processed meat and Fresh Express has built its business on packaged salads, each company was able to focus on its particular expertise, she said.