Hormel sees potential new customers for its shelf-stable foods: cancer patients.
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The company known for Dinty Moore stews and Spam canned meats is promoting microwavable meals it says cater to people who are going through chemotherapy and are sensitive to certain tastes. Its Vital Cuisine meals, launched last year, are also marketed as delivering the nutrients and convenience people might want if they're too exhausted to cook or leave the house for food.
Whether they catch on remains to be seen. If loss of appetite is a problem, microwavable meals like stew that look similar to Hormel's other products may not do the trick. Some may prefer ordering in from a restaurant or other microwavable meals they feel are tastier and just as nutritious.
Still, it's a chance for Hormel to build its business with hospitals and nursing homes, as well as selling such products directly to consumers. The company already offers "Thick & Easy" foods that have been pureed for the elderly and others who have trouble swallowing. To make them more appealing, some purees are molded back into the shape of foods like scrambled eggs.
Here's what Don Kremin, who heads Hormel's specialty foods group, had to say about Vital Cuisine.
Q: Do you have any competitors in this area?
A: We really don't.
Q: What is the potential for these products?
A: You look at the aging demographics in the United States. That alone gives us a tremendous tail wind. Couple that with the fact that people are being released from care facilities much sooner than in the past, and they need to recover at home.
Q: Where is it sold?
A: It is sold through hospitals, nursing homes and online. Amazon is a growing customer of ours as we connect directly with patients when they leave these hospitals. We're going through retailer websites.
We've been very apprehensive about rolling this out and throwing it into a store. Do you put it in the center store, or do you put it by the pharmacy? We think a better approach is within the pharmaceutical section.
Q: Does this have more potential than your pureed and shaped foods?
A: It has greater potential. This product is available direct to consumers online. Amazon has been helping us reach people. We don't want people looking for a pair of socks and Vital Cuisine pops up. They've given us a lot of direction in that area.
Q: Is this being sold just to cancer patients, or do you see other uses for it?
A: It was designed specifically for cancer patients, but it's morphed into appealing to aging consumers. It's almost become like one of the meal services that you get online. At the end of the day, Hormel's a protein company. And here's another way to leverage the power of protein to help people.