PILLSBURY: CONSUMERS READY FOR MEXICAN MEALS AT HOME

MINNEAPOLIS -- Consumers are ready to eat more Mexican food at home, said Chris Policinski of Pillsbury Co. here, who acknowledged that 75% of consumption today takes place in restaurants."There's a big opportunity to transfer that restaurant behavior into the home. The opportunity for us as manufacturers is to make our products a bit more contemporary, a bit more convenient and a bit more user-friendly,"

MINNEAPOLIS -- Consumers are ready to eat more Mexican food at home, said Chris Policinski of Pillsbury Co. here, who acknowledged that 75% of consumption today takes place in restaurants.

"There's a big opportunity to transfer that restaurant behavior into the home. The opportunity for us as manufacturers is to make our products a bit more contemporary, a bit more convenient and a bit more user-friendly," the vice president of Pillsbury's Old El Paso Brands told SN in an interview.

The brand is the market leader in Mexican meals and sauces with about a 22% share of the $1.5 billion category, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. The product line includes beans, shells, tortillas, chips, seasonings, dinner kits, entrees, side dishes and sauces such as salsa and picante.

Policinski explained that Pillsbury's marketing strategy for Mexican food is threefold: explain to consumers how to make Mexican meals at home, launch easy-to-prepare meals and flex its marketing muscle to get consumers to change their Mexican-food eating habits. Pillsbury's effort at wooing the consumer began with its popular advertisements starring Nacho Man, which began with its acquisition of Pet, St. Louis, in February 1995. Nachos traditionally have been a favorite appetizer in restaurants, but they are hardly ever eaten at home. Nacho Man gave consumers a recipe to make hot nachos easily at home using a microwave oven.

"It really played to our brand strength -- we have sauces and refried beans -- and it helped our retailers grow by bringing some behavior into the grocery store that right now is in restaurants," said Policinski.

To fill this consumer need, in August Pillsbury launched a product called Old El Paso One Skillet Mexican. It's designed to be a Mexican meal that can be prepared in 20 minutes by adding ground beef or chicken to the tortilla, sauce mix and rice provided.

"Consumers really want to have quick meals at home. Some are going to Boston Market and actually taking their food dollar away from where we want it to be. We can bring that consumer back to the retail environment," he said.