HMR IN MEAT DEPARTMENTS CALLED ROOST FOR CHICKEN

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- The format of meat department meal solutions may be in for an overhaul if Lynn Dornblaser, the editorial director of the Chicago-based publication New Product News, is on the money."When will [retailers] bite the bullet and put brand-name restaurant kiosks in their stores?" she asked during her presentation on trends in chicken products at the Broiler Marketing Seminar here.Dornblaser

FARMINGTON, Pa. -- The format of meat department meal solutions may be in for an overhaul if Lynn Dornblaser, the editorial director of the Chicago-based publication New Product News, is on the money.

"When will [retailers] bite the bullet and put brand-name restaurant kiosks in their stores?" she asked during her presentation on trends in chicken products at the Broiler Marketing Seminar here.

Dornblaser said that she thought shoppers would welcome a chance to purchase chicken dishes from known food-service establishments at the supermarket.

In an interview after her presentation Dornblaser highlighted some other innovative approaches that retailers could take to revamp the way they look at retail meal solutions today.

"The biggest problem that supermarkets have when it comes to HMR is that they don't have the staff. So they either need to invest heavily or find alternative ways, like through branded products, that they can put together promotions."

As an example of an alternative format without added expense, Dornblaser cited the Chicago-area retailer Jewel Food Stores, Melrose Park, Ill., which "has to-go bags, where you get a rotisserie chicken, some rolls and a pound of potato salad. That's one way they can get into HMR without changing the way that they do business."

During her presentation Dornblaser discussed a variety of trends in chicken products and made a few more predictions about what's on the horizon.

Spurred on by a variety of new home-meal replacement formats, seasonings and innovative cross promotions, chicken has gotten more convenient, according to Dornblaser.

Items like rotisserie chicken, which "Boston Market got everyone in the habit of selling," chicken breast nuggets and boneless portions of chicken breast have steadily been given more room on supermarket shelves, noted Dornblaser.

Chicken strips, with a variety of different seasonings, have also turned into a convenience mainstay, she noted. "They are being used in salads, sandwiches or right out of the box."

The portion sizes of chicken have also been getting more convenient. The individual portions of chicken breast often seen on supermarket shelves are easy to microwave and good for small families, Dornblaser explained.

New types of chicken-based HMR products -- like stir-fry kits, dinner pies and meal and sandwich kits -- have continued to proliferate, according to Dornblaser.

Although not heavily advertised as a healthy alternative, chicken has continued to be perceived as such, said Dornblaser. "For the most part chicken products don't advertise the health part as much because they don't have to."

Even some of the traditionally heavier chicken dishes have been lightened up.

"We are seeing some typically less healthy preparations getting healthier," she noted, citing Healthy Choice breaded, stuffed chicken breasts as an example.

Innovative chicken-based meat substitutes have also been proliferating, according to Dornblaser. "Gourmet chicken sausages that have been available in gourmet stores for years are now in supermarkets."

Dornblaser wound up her presentation with a series of predictions about where these chicken trends were heading and what new ones retailers could plan on seeing in the near future.

As consumers demand more convenience, Dornblaser predicted that supermarkets would offer more meals in a cup -- like chicken noodle soup -- that have the added advantage of being microwavable. She added that there might also be an influx of new chicken-based shelf-stable items like Thai chicken dishes, provided manufacturers can keep the sodium levels down.

Consumers may be laying yet another one on the grill, predicted Dornblaser, as new and exotic chicken-based gourmet sausages will continue to saturate the market.

Since "backyard cooks have learned they can impress with chicken with tarragon and sun-dried tomato sausage instead of wimpy wieners," Dornblaser said that even more imaginatively flavored sausages should hit the market in 1997.

Wraps and pockets are also due for an overhaul, according to Dornblaser. "It's time for the next generation of pockets that don't drip."

Her final prediction was that even smaller prepackaged portions of chicken would become available, and that supermarkets should "expect more packaging downsizing as manufacturers recognize the small household market."