PASTA, PASTA SAUCE & PIZZA

Western Family: Self-Rising, Three Meat Pizza e Meat Pizza beat DiGiorno during a blind taste test at the private-label supplier's headquarters. And, it also won the heart of the PLMA focus group judges, leading to a victory in the pizza category.Originally distributed to Western Family's customers on the East Coast under the Shurfine label, the pizza was rolled out to West Coast clients in March

Western Family: Self-Rising, Three Meat Pizza

e Meat Pizza beat DiGiorno during a blind taste test at the private-label supplier's headquarters. And, it also won the heart of the PLMA focus group judges, leading to a victory in the pizza category.

Originally distributed to Western Family's customers on the East Coast under the Shurfine label, the pizza was rolled out to West Coast clients in March 2004 under the Western Family label.

Although the nation is engaged in a low-carb craze, Dave Hayden, senior vice president at Western Family Foods, told SN his company decided to create a pizza anyway due to a simple observation.

"We watched Celeste and DiGiorno and saw how well they were doing and how much space they were picking up on the shelves and tried it in the East first. It did so darned well that we brought the same formula to the West and it worked," Hayden said.

It took about three months for the company's packers to develop flavor profiles that rival the national brands and the Three Meat variety is joined by Supreme, Four Cheese and Pepperoni alternatives. The pizzas vary slightly in size, based on ingredients, but the standard weight is 35 ounces. Suggested retail price is $4.99.

At the time of its rollout, Western Family provided its retail customers with freezer door clings featuring the Western Family logo to help promote the new item. The wholesaler continues to promote the pizza through sampling efforts whenever possible.

"We present it at food shows. We bake it up and give it as samples and, [it's] a great way to show it off because it really tastes good," Hayden said.

ShopRite: Vegetable Lasagna

Intended for use during a family meal or dinner gathering, ShopRite's frozen Vegetable Lasagna garnered high praise from the focus panel judges, as well as from a company executive who had consumed some of it immediately before speaking with SN.

"It's really good," said Karen Meleta, corporate communications, Wakefern Food Corp., owner of the ShopRite banner. "There are whole chunks of vegetables in it, broccoli, carrots. You really see the vegetables in it."

Packaged in a box containing a foil tray, the lasagna weighs 96 ounces and retails for $9.99, a "tremendous value," according to Meleta. It took about a year to develop and its launch featured a promotion linked to the ShopRite shopper loyalty Price Plus card for either $1 or $2 off the total sale.

Cooking time after thawing in the refrigerator takes about 70 to 80 minutes; if moving the product straight from the freezer to the oven, cooking time increases to two hours.

The vegetable version is made with three cheeses, spinach, carrots and broccoli. ShopRite has also developed a meat version in a 40-ounce package that will soon start shipping to stores, Meleta told SN.

Laurence Markowitz, partner at Salans, New York, and a judge during the event, said he was so impressed with the lasagna that he bought it for his family after the tasting event, despite the fact that it is quite a distance to the ShopRite store nearest his home.

"It's a nice-looking product on the plate. It's creamy and yummy looking with a nice crusty top," said Markowitz. "My family liked it. This was a really good product."

Wegmans: Italian Classics Bolognese Pasta Sauce

Recipes for Wegmans' private-label products often get their start elsewhere in the company. In the case of its winning bolognese sauce, it all started in the retailer's prepared-foods area. The sauce was already being served fresh there when its quality taste garnered the attention of several executives.

"We took that inspiration and said, 'How can we recreate that in a jarred sauce and truly have our own unique flavor profile in our Italian classic program?"' said Peter Hallagan, manager of the Wegmans brand.

The team at Wegmans spent several months working closely with a vendor to devise a recipe that would replicate the fresh flavor of the original product in a shelf-stable version. In August of 2003, after less than one year in development, the 7-ounce jar hit store shelves, retailing at $1.99. Packaged in a traditional, clear mason jar with a black lid, the product's green-and-beige label includes a wellness key for consumers. The Italian Classics line of sauces now numbers seven, and other flavors include Sausage Fennel, Puttanesca, Diabolo and Vodka.

"It's such a good blend of flavors. The bolognese has a hint of cinnamon that is very interesting," Hallagan said.

The sauce was featured in the retailer's magazine upon its launch and was also part of some in-store demo promotions.