Kraft Heinz has been bold with innovation lately. Since the start of 2023, it has teamed up with Ed Sheeran to launch hot sauce brand Tingly Ted’s; expanded its Beanz brand with Nuggetz for kids; added a trio of Mayo Mashupz; partnered with Absolut on a co-branded vodka pasta sauce; and unveiled an 11-strong tomato-based ingredients range. However, its latest launch is perhaps the most significant of all…

Since 2020, the cooking sauces and meal kits category has been dominated by General Mills-owned brand Old El Paso – with a value amounting to £119.5m last year [NIQ 52 w/e 31 December 2022]. But now, Kraft Heinz wants a piece of the quesadilla.

The fmcg giant recently debuted Mexican-inspired meal kit brand Las Chicas in Asda. The 13-strong range promised to deliver “all the essentials required to make Mexican food as flavourful and authentic as possible, in as little as 20 minutes”. But with sales of cooking sauces and meal kits in decline, will Las Chicas flourish in grocery?

Mexican meal kit with a budget shopper appeal

While Old El Paso has become known for its Tex-Mex inspired meal kits – such as the Extra Mild Fajita Kit it launched in 2010 – Las Chicas aims to bring a “modern”, “authentic” version of Mexican cuisine to supermarkets. As Kraft Heinz points out, palettes have become more sophisticated over recent years. More than half (59%) of Brits have eaten Mexican food at home in the past three months, according to Mintel, with 40% of world cuisine eaters prioritising authenticity [World Cuisines UK, 2023].

For this reason, Heinz developed the Las Chicas range in partnership with Mexican culinary institute El Claustro and two of the country’s up-and-coming chefs, Karla Encarnación and Ximena Gonzalez. But despite their culinary influence, the products are competitively priced. The meal kits each have an rsp of £3.20 – compared with Old El Paso’s Extra Mild Fajita Kit, which had a pre-promotional shelf price of £3.80 in Asda at the time of writing.

Appealing to budget-conscious shoppers could help Heinz recoup some of the volumes lost across its core baked beans and table sauce SKUs – which have fallen victim to a series of price hikes in recent months. Plus, it plays to Heinz’s strengths in ambient goods – unlike its chilled innovations, such as Beanz Protein Pots and Beanz Houmouz, which quickly fell by the wayside.

However, the move into meal kits is risky at a time where shoppers’ interest in home cooking is tailing off. Despite being the number-one brand, Old El Paso shed £6.2m last year, with volumes falling 6.4% [NIQ 52 w/e 31 December 2022]. Nestlé, meanwhile, recently took the decision to pull its Middle Eastern meal kit brand MezEast from the market as it was “not viable” in the current climate.

A meal kit with a feminist positioning

Kraft Heinz will have to wield its marketing budget hard to build a new brand in this challenging climate – and dominated category. That’s perhaps why it’s given its meal kits a feminist positioning, colourful packaging and fun illustrations.

No doubt the trendy branding will appeal to millennial and gen Z shoppers, but if it wants to push Old El Paso off the top spot, it will need to adopt a long-term strategy that focuses on what consumers aren’t getting from current market leaders. After all, Old El Paso’s UK offering launched almost 40 years ago in 1984. Even after launching its staple fajita kits in 2010, it still took another 10 years to become the category leader.

If it’s serious about taking General Mills on, Kraft Heinz will have to prove it’s willing to play the long game.