Conagra Brands sharpens focus on snacks market with new innovation center

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: Conagra Brands
Photo: Conagra Brands

Related tags Conagra Brands Snacks Chicago

Conagra Brands announced it will build a new 40,000-square-foot innovation center in Chicago to propel the company's snacking innovation business.

Conagra is part of a slew of large CPG firms refocusing their efforts on the profitable snacking category. Late last year, Mondelēz International created SnackFutures​, a division on the business focused entirely on bringing further snack innovation into the company fold. Campbell Soup made its largest acquisition in company history when it purchased Snyder's-Lance for $4.9bn in 2017. 

Chicago to become Conagra's snacks innovation hub

The new innovation center will be located next to its downtown Chicago headquarters and will focus on "innovation related to snacking"​ combining culinary, and food and packaging design expertise in one facility, the company said. 

"The Conagra Brands Center for Food Design in Chicago will be a fresh, collaborative space with state-of-the-art capabilities to provide our talented team with the right resources to help grow Conagra's snacking business,"​ said Corey Berends, senior vice president, research & development for Conagra Brands. "In addition, the expansive kitchen and tasting area will be an ideal place to collaborate with our customers and develop new food solutions."

The Conagra Brands Center for Food Design in Chicago is scheduled to officially open in the first quarter of calendar year 2020 and will house up to 50 employees, including food and packaging designers and members of the company's culinary team. 

Conagra Brands will continue to operate The Center for Food Design and Technology in Omaha, Nebraska, which will focus on Conagra's expanded frozen, refrigerated, shelf-stable meals as well as condiments and enhancers. Omaha will also remain the R&D hub for the company's food safety, and technology development teams, noted Conagra.

Conagra sharpens focus on snacks portfolio

Conagra's snack portfolio includes Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP (acquired in October 2017 for $250m​), Duke's meat snacks (also acquired in 2017 for an undisclosed sum), and legacy brand Slim Jim. Recently, the Angie's BOOMCHICKAPOP brand, which makes lightly salted air-popped popcorn, expanded into the trail mix category​ launching three new SKUs earlier this year. 

"Conagra Brands' $2bn snacks business is one of the largest and fastest growing in the food industry,"​ said Tom McGough, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer for Conagra Brands. "Our strong snacking portfolio is positioned for long-term growth and we expect the capabilities in this new facility to enable us to create even more innovative products that our consumers will love."

In its full year earnings report, Conagra reported nets sales of its Grocery & Snacks segment decreased 7.1% to $746m, largely due to the divesture of the Wesson oil business and declines in its Hunt's and Chef Boyardee brands weighing down net sales growth rate. However, the segment continued to benefit from momentum and innovation successes in the snacks businesses, noted the company.

Conagra and plant-based protein

In a recent interview​, Conagra senior vice president of insights & analytics, Bob Nolan, told FoodNavigator-USA that the company believes it will grow its competitive position in the plant-based protein market, mainly through the Gardein brand (acquired in 2018 as part of the company's Pinnacle Foods acquisition deal). 

“I’d say that to be conservative, in the next 7-10 years we’re talking about a $30bn opportunity across all markets in the US,” ​Nolan said. 

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