analysis by Peter Crosskey Don't listen to food writers in the women's magazines. Canned food is not in the doldrums, and some sectors are doing well. Taylor Nelson Sofres' statistics points to a stable market at £3bn, although the success of desserts, up 13.4%, and good performances for hot meats, soup, baked beans and fish, have been offset by the decline in other sectors, including ham, cold meats, fruit and vegetables. Canned goods companies have recognised that new product development is key to growing the market ­ offering more exciting propositions, greater convenience, and even departing from the lack of glamour of the can itself. But it is still possible to make a big success out of canned goods, as has been proved by Tulip International's Stagg Chilli range which is helping consumers to rediscover the hot meat category. The fact that it comes in a can is secondary to the brand's development. Tulip International brand manager Helen Lynn says: "The can is invisible in the branding. It demonstrates that a canned product can be more convenient than its chilled counterpart, offering value for money and value for time." Most brands take a long time to get established ­ but in less than 18 months Stagg Chilli has become a £2.4m brand, with a 30% share of the meat category. "Sampling has been the key to Stagg Chilli's success," adds Lynn. "Our researchers found that we got a 42% first repeat purchase conversion with sampling, of which 80% generated third purchases." Offering greater convenience with complete meals and snacks is the course that the leading brands have been following, and with some success. Heinz has revamped its convenience meals team to create a "Quick Serve" approach which it believes is more suited to market needs. First offerings are Cheezy Beans, a convenience snack for children, and Baked Bean Meals ­ a meal in their own right, in 400g bolognese, chilli con carne, sausage casserole and chicken curry varieties. Heinz has also added value by introducing organic versions of its best-selling Baked Beans and Spaghetti. Though distribution is still at an early stage, the company says sales of both are outstripping those of its competitors by two to one. HL Foods has also broadened its complete HP bean meals range with a number of new recipes, including Sausages Beans n' Wedges, the Big BBQ, Beef Grill and Chips. The new year saw the launch of Omelette, Chips and Beans. This strategy is paying off. HP complete bean meals are showing value growth of 31.3% and it now has 25% of baked bean variants, a sector that's grown 7.2% in value in the last year [ACNielsen Scantrack, November 4, 2000]. This success is repeated in the children's pasta shapes market where HL Foods introduced two major licences in 2000. Bob the Builder has been "phenomenally successful", according to the company, grabbing the pasta shapes number one slot by volume in the 12 weeks ending November 4, according to ACNielsen. It expects the Thunderbird shapes, launched in October, to reach the top slot this year. HL Foods has also launched this month Smash Wedgers, a new range based on its Smash instant potato brand. The company claims it's the first canned complete ready meal range to be based around potato wedges. Recipes include chilli, tikka, tuna, cheddar and sausage variants. The 400g cans have already been listed by several multiples. Soup is another successful category which has seen a lot of innovation recently. Baxters' marketing director Robin Lambie says there's increased consumer interest in soup. "This, combined with an increase in disposable income, means that shoppers are trading up to premium products." In response it has introduced more varieties ­ Haggis Broth and Mulligatawny to its traditional range, and Butternut Squash & Red Pepper to its Simply Delicious low fat range. It has also extended its organic soups: the addition of Tomato & Mascarpone and Vegetable, Bean & Pasta recipes brings the number of lines in the range to five. "Our organic soup range has seen sales more than double over the last year, capturing an 18% share of the branded organic soup market, according to IR data," says Lambie. "Three of our recipes are now among the top six best selling ambient organic soups, and we intend to build on our success with these new additions to the range." Other canners are not being left behind in the dash for organic ranges. Meridian md Peter Otto says: "The canned organic market is at an embryonic stage, but we believe its future looks extremely bright. We will be looking to extend current ranges as well as develop new categories over the next 12 months." Meridian launched its first organic canned lines, accredited by the Soil Association, last autumn. They comprise three varieties of canned organic soup: leek and potato; cream of tomato; spicy lentil and minestrone, all priced 99p. Canned fruit is seeing an upsurge in sales, even though the number of occasions when consumers eat puddings as part of a meal is in decline. This is because manufacturers have responded to the growth in snacking by creating smaller, more convenient, portion-sized formats that can be positioned closer to snack products. Mainstream canned dessert products like rice puddings and custard, led by brands such as Ambrosia, are thriving because they have made the transition into portion-sized formats. Del Monte is brand leader in the £130m canned fruit sector, with a share of more than 20%. It, too, has invested in new packaging formats, the latest being fruit in plastic pots. The company says fruit in syrup accounts for 57% of the sector but expects this to take second place to fruit in juice, which currently has 40% of the market but is growing at 6.4% year on year, as consumers adopt a healthier eating approach. Fruit in nectar, and similar variants, account for 3% of the segment. Del Monte says the majority of canned fruit purchasers are older consumers, over 45 who are brand-loyal and buy frequently due to their traditional buying patterns. Changing eating patterns and the increasing popularity of the light meal has helped sales of canned fish to rise. ACNielsen estimates the value of the total canned fish sector at £329m, up 2.5% year on year (November 4 2000, MAT). The volumes of product, however, have risen by nearly 11% over the same period to 100,000 tonnes, as a result of the sector being promotionally driven. Tuna is the star performer of canned fish, accounting for 60% of canned fish consumption, and a 13.5% uplift in volumes. Princes has a 20% tuna share according to Nielsen data ­ and claims that its 11% growth in share made it the fastest growing brand in 2000. "We have focused our efforts on driving weight of purchase in canned fish," says fish marketing manager Melissa Wilson. The market is promotionally driven ­ to the point that six-can multipacks have become a permanent line in some stores, such is the demand for the multipack format. However, the drive for volume is tempered by an attempt to widen the consumer's repertoire. This is pushed by the shift in consumers' habits towards light meals and snacks to replace main meals. Light meals account for nearly a third of tuna consumption, although researchers working for Princes found that there was a willingness to use tuna in hot dishes ­ if a recipe was made available. As a result there are now on-pack promotions and recipes on Princes' 185g tuna chunk multipacks. Last year John West invested more than £500k in a major new look to add further momentum to the canned fish fixture. General manager, seafood marketing, Jeremy Coles says added value tuna is seeing record growth, up 11.2% volume/20% value year on year. In August it added Weight Watchers from Heinz Tuna in Coronation Style Dressing to its Weight Watcher range. This product accounts for 12% of all added value tuna sold. Rea Valley, one of the few brands in first grade ox and lunch tongues, says the high quality of its products continues to be the primary purchase motive among consumers. Sales and marketing manager Martin Burdekin says successful marketing of these traditional products depends on the right quality. "The market has seen added value by retailers extending or re-mixing categories to feature premium specialist items such as Rea Valley ox tongue. This has resulted in strong incremental performance for the meat category." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}