New Product Extension from Chef Boyardee

New Forms, Categories and Nutritional Benefits

Today, ConAgra’s Chef Boyardee brand has expanded from its traditional base of beef ravioli in cans to new ingredients, additional flavors and new forms. The new product extensions include pasta made with cauliflower, pasta in butter sauce, chili mac, and microwaveable cups.

The Chef Boyardee brand is growing and poised for more growth.  Says Conagra Brands CEO Sean Connolly:

“Chef Boyardee was growing nicely before COVID. It’s doing very well now…People are having flashbacks to their childhood.”

The brand was even in the news for a petition to replace the statue of Christopher Columbus in Cleveland with a statue of Chef Boyardee’s founder, Clevelander Ettore “Hector” Boiardi.

New Product Extension Objectives: Questions to Address

New Product Extension from Chef Boyardee

In this case study, Insight to Action was asked to examine the potential for expanding this brand’s equity beyond canned pasta to new forms, new categories and new benefits.  We were asked to address the following questions about Chef Boyardee:

  • Can Chef go beyond current product forms (i.e., cans) to new product forms that leverage ConAgra in-house technology? (Note that ConAgra has capabilities in many different forms beyond cans)
  • Can Chef be a bigger source of nutrition?
  • Can Chef move into totally new categories?
  • Can Chef offer other sauce/meat options?
  • Can Chef move beyond the mini-meal occasion (to multi-serve)?
  • Can Chef move from shelf stable to frozen?
  • Can Chef expand beyond Italian?

Fast forward to today, and we can see that the Chef Boyardee brand has made a number of these brand extension moves, and is capable of more.  The line has evolved to address new product forms (cups) and nutrition (cauliflower).

The equity work also indicated that the brand has more extension potential, beyond shelf stable into frozen.

Historically, ConAgra had managed its frozen foods business separately from its shelf stable brands, and so it was difficult for a shelf stable business to make the move into frozen.  This has not happened to date, to our knowledge. Of course, there is a brand portfolio question for ConAgra, which may have elected to focus on other equities in frozen. 

New Product Extension Research Approach

The work approach included three major research worksteps to gain consumer perspective, and six management worksessions to ensure alignment.   These are outlined below:

  1. Immersion: review of existing information on the brand, management interviews, and understanding of target consumers
  2. Qualitative focus groups with adult consumers, and kids ages 6 to 12
  3. Robust quantitative research with 1,300 nationally representative consumers. Sample to include 200 teens ages 13-17, over 300 children ages 6-12 and paired responses with their moms, and adult consumers 18-65.  Within this sample, there was a large readable sample of Chef Boyardee users, along with lapsed users and nonusers.
  4. Worksessions with working team:
    • Review of brand equity findings and first-cut brand pyramid and pillars
    • Review quantitative information on extension categories, product forms, and category extension rings
    • Due diligence on extension categories, forms, and extension rings
    • Three senior management updates

New Product Extension Brand Strengths

The brand set that is considered quantitatively has a major impact on the findings.  After careful consideration, the Chef team chose 12 competitor brands with a mix of both all family and kid taste equities for evaluation. For instance, Campbell’s, Hormel and Tyson were included for all family appeal, as well as frozen brands Hot Pockets, Healthy Choice and Banquet.  Kid brands included Spaghetti O’s, Kid Cuisine (frozen), and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. 

Brand imagery maps were also examined. The data was analyzed among households with and without kids.  While some of these logos have evolved, historical logos are included in the chart below for purposes of the case study.

New Product Extension from Chef Boyardee

Qualitatively and quantitatively, the Chef brand had clear equity strengths:

  • Known for sauce, meat, taste, filling, affordability and convenience
  • Personality of Chef: comforting, happy, cheerful
  • Product Benefits: taste, satisfaction, kid happiness
  • Product Attributes: filling, comforting, warm, meaty taste
  • Nutrition: an area where Chef could improve, though performance was at parity among kid households.  Recommendation was that nutrition should continue to be part of the brand

Chef Boyardee New Product Extension Testing Results from Illustrations

Both category assessment and product illustrations were used to test potential new product extensions for Chef.  These included direct category associations, correlated associations and 47 new product illustrations that went head-to-head against competitor illustrations. 

  • The research found that new product forms like microwaveable cups and trays were appropriate and could also bring positive equity to Chef
  • It also found that Chef can encompass All American (e.g., cheesy burger mac) in addition to Italian, but was not appropriate for other cuisines
  • Frozen food options were viable for Chef, e.g., pizza rollers, frozen lasagna

The top performing extensions were in new forms with added nutrition and alternative meat (this was before plant-based meats) and Italian/pizza snacks with sauce.

New Product Extension from Chef Boyardee

The work also identified a number of new product extension danger zones: beverages, breakfast, bars/granola bars, dry spaghetti, toddler foods/meals, refrigerated dinners or refrigerated pizza crust.  

Does your brand have a plan to move into new product extension categories?  Additional Insight to Action resources on new products are available on the resource page. Or contact us to begin a collaboration today.

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