Until now, there have been Lunchables and, well, Lunchables.
Kraft Food Group’s Oscar Mayer brand created the concept of prepackaged lunch meals for children in 1988 and has effectively owned that business ever since, with sales accounting for 76 percent of the small but lucrative $1.35 billion niche product category, according to IRI, a market research firm in Chicago.
But starting this month, some grocery refrigerator cases will be adding a new competitor, Revolution Foods Meal Kits. The kits are the first foray into the grocery store by Revolution Foods, an Oakland, Calif., company founded by two women seven years ago to supply school cafeterias with healthier prepared foods. “We felt like now was the right time,” said Kirsten Saenz Tobey, co-founder and chief innovation officer. “Consumer awareness of food nutrition and demand for healthier, natural products is high and especially in this category of convenient, grab-and-go foods.”
The new products will show up this month in Safeway stores in Northern California, H-E-B and Central Market stores in Texas, and King Soopers in Colorado. Introduction of the four products — Peanut Butter and Jelly, Cheese Pizza, Turkey and Cheddar, and Ham and Cheese — will continue in September in Whole Foods in the Bay Area and the following month in Target stores in the Northeast and Southwest.
Lunchables has long been a favorite target of food critics, who contend that the product has too much fat, sugar and preservatives.
In 2003, Kraft tried addressing the criticism with a line called Lunchables Fun Fuel that replaced candy with yogurt and a better quality of fruit juice, but dropped the line after two years because of weak sales. In 2011, Kraft introduced Lunchables With Fruit with a $20 million advertising campaign that featured a fruit cup. The change drove sales to new heights, and last summer Kraft added Lunchables With Smoothie. “These two products are definitely meeting a specific consumer need by providing a full serving of fruit,” said Sydney Lindner, a spokeswoman for the brand.
Kristin Groos Richmond, co-founder and chief executive of Revolution Foods, said the company’s primary goal was to provide parents like her and her business partner higher-quality ingredients in a “better for you” product, not to win a nutrition contest. “We’ve not only focused on making sure we have a compelling nutritional panel, but also on one of our largest points of distinction — our ingredient standards,” Richmond said.