If we were to paint a timeline spanning the last 20 years, reaching from the early inceptions of convenience to today’s offerings, I would likely begin with Lunchables—the packaged, ready-to-assemble meal that became the envy of kids in the cafeteria still eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Meal kits brought that same construct-with-convenience component, but with the identifiable—dare I say, real?—foods that Lunchables and other pre-packed successors lacked. This new option streamlined the family dinner and helped give home-cooked meals back to dual income households, bringing another layer to the ease consumers have come to love in their food choices. So where do we go from here?
“At the end of the day, our goal is to bring products to market that meet our retail partners’ needs in terms of what their shoppers are looking for. In this case, we know consumers are looking for quick, easy meals that also feature fresh produce and other clean ingredients,” Brian Cook, President of Pete’s, tells me as we discuss something completely new, innovative, and an answer to the gap left by the above timeline. “We believe that ‘quick and easy’ does not have to be synonymous with ‘artificial, full of preservatives, and overly processed.’ We are giving time-pressed consumers an alternative that has never really been offered before, which we believe will raise the bar. Quick and easy meals, plus fresh and premium ingredients, with recipes inspired by chefs in the foodservice world—the result is a total game changer in the retail space.”
The words might seem bold, but the taste buds don’t lie. I remember stepping onto the Fresh Produce and Floral Council’s show floor last June only to see a gathering of curious attendees vying for samples of a new concept in fresh convenience: Butter Stuffers.
“We believe our hydroponically greenhouse-grown lettuce comes without limits. That’s why we’ve created a range of chef-inspired, ready-to-wrap meals incorporating premium, fresh, and clean ingredients. Thanks to Pete’s, consumers can now conquer their next meal single-handedly just in time for their 2020 New Year’s resolutions and beyond!” Brian smiles.
"The clear benefit of ready-made meals for time-sensitive consumers is that they simply need to heat the meals or mix some ingredients, but no actual cooking is required."
Brian Cook, President, Pete's
Each Butter Stuffer kit features a full-sized Pete’s Butter Lettuce head with 12 usable leaves, 100 percent natural, white meat chicken with no antibiotics, and clean Organic Hak’s Brand dressings and sauces. Any one of the three available products delivers nearly 50 grams of protein, can be assembled in minutes, and can be enjoyed warm or cold.
“Ready-made meals have really started to take off as of late, likely due to the fact that, at 4:00 p.m. each weekday, 80 percent of U.S. consumers don’t know what they are going to serve for that evening’s dinner, according to Nielsen. Ready-made meals are often purchased as impulse buys when time-pressed consumers don’t have a plan for dinner and need a convenient solution,” Brian explains. “The clear benefit of ready-made meals for time-sensitive consumers is that they simply need to heat the meals or mix some ingredients, but no actual cooking is required. At the same time, our employees were bringing ‘inclusions’ from home and grabbing a butter lettuce head to whip up quick, easy, healthy lettuce wraps for lunch at the office.”
We laugh when I mention that I have been guilty of the very same move, swapping out bread and tortillas for the leafy but sturdy alternatives that give my plate a pop of color.
Brian agrees with that last point especially, attributing it to lettuce wraps having enjoyed rising popularity as a trendy menu item around the country.
“And chef-inspired meals at retail are also on the rise,” he adds. “A combination of all of these observations and trends led us to the idea of Butter Stuffers—quick, easy, chef-inspired, ready-made meals featuring our very own Pete’s butter lettuce that consumers can use to create their very own lettuce wraps, whether in the office for lunch or at home for dinner.”
To me, it’s Lunchables all grown up. But with a name like “Butter Stuffers” and kids’ inclination to do as they see, I can see this moving very quickly from Mom’s and Dad’s lunchbox to the next generation of consumers. And when I think of the target audience, I always have to ask about the packaging and those behind its direction.
“Given the premium nature of the ingredients within the package, we worked hard to create a custom package for Butter Stuffers that felt just as premium while also allowing our beautiful green butter lettuce and all of the other fresh ingredients to be showcased,” Brian shares. “The package and corresponding band are designed to be a bit disruptive, piquing shoppers’ interest and encouraging them to pick up the package and examine all of the wonderful goodness inside.”
The package itself has three separate, distinct compartments—one that houses and protects the butter lettuce, one for all the inclusions and toppings, and one that holds and showcases the high-quality, premium chicken each kit offers.
“As for the concept, true to our nature, the launch of Butter Stuffers would not have been possible without a really amazing team working diligently behind it,” Brian emphasizes, sharing that while he was deeply involved every step of the way, Corrie Hutchens, who heads up all-things marketing for Pete’s, and Baltazar Garcia, Pete’s Director of Sales, were right there alongside him. “Corrie helped shape the Butter Stuffers idea into an actual product, while Baltazar was critical in getting news of our product out there to retailers. Our finance and purchasing team members also played key roles in bringing this product to fruition. So, it was very much a team effort.”
"At the end of the day, our goal is to bring products to market that meet our retail partners’ needs..."
Those efforts were noticed and repaid in interest at the product line’s soft reveal last summer and will no doubt be recognized in kind when they hit stores in January of 2020.
As for the company behind this exciting new option for fresh, Brian assures me it is just the beginning.
“Our messaging and visions will continue to be what they always have been: Everything we do, we do for the greater good—and for the greater good of greens, too!” he says. “Our mission has always been to make the best tasting, longest lasting, most sustainable greens on Earth so people can live healthier lives starting with the food on their plate. As such, we believe we can make the world a greener place from both a nutritional and environmental standpoint. Butter Stuffers is just one more product in our portfolio that will allow us to do that.”
Brian and I sit with this thought, and with the realization that even in this tech-fueled, convenience-driven market, it is the simplest things that go unnoticed and receive the most appreciation.
Answering a question consumers didn’t yet know to ask, Butter Stuffers may be one small step for Pete’s overall goal, but it could be a giant leap for packaged produce.