Marie Callender Beckons Consumers to ‘Savor’ Meals

Marie Callender’s is presenting mealtime as a respite from the day’s worries in a campaign themed “Time to savor” that portrays the brand’s products as comfort food.

The campaign promotes two new varieties of items which the ConAgra Foods frozen meals brand launched this summer. Fresh Flavor Steamers boast popular cuisines like Asian, American and Mexican, while Bakes tap into consumers’ love of comfort food, albeit with a modern twist.

The first uses a proprietary, tray-in-a-tray steaming technology which sibling brand Healthy Choice first introduced on its Café Steamers line in 2007. (The invention has since been a hit for ConAgra.)

Bakes, meanwhile, contain a new microwavable tray that allows for the products to be heated evenly, so there are no burnt or cold spots. The products retail for $2.99 and $5.69, respectively.

Countering the idea of mealtime as a rushed—yet necessary—ritual, new Fresh Flavor Steamers ads running this week show a group of late-night office workers gathered around the kitchen table indulging in a home-away-from-home meal.

The spot opens with a voiceover asking consumers to “set down your pencils” and to “step away from the Internet” to enjoy their food. New Marie Callender’s Fresh Flavor Steamers are “steamed to perfection in minutes, giving the fresh flavors and textures of a homemade meal,” the voiceover says. It concludes with the tagline: “Time to savor.”

An ad for Bakes, similarly, contrasts an empty dinner table with a scene of a woman spreading a tablecloth and setting down napkins. “Even from the microwave, they still taste like homemade,” the voiceover says, referring to the brand’s new baking tray.

Agencies DDB, San Francisco, MediaCom and Bridge Worldwide handled creative, media buying and digital duties, respectively.

Jennifer Freeman, brand director on Marie Callender’s, said the campaign taps into the insight that “somewhere along the line in our busy, time-pressed lives, we’ve forgotten about the pleasure and comfort of a good, sit-down meal.”

Freeman said that pleasure “is really what Marie Callender’s is all about,” citing the brand’s founder, a woman who started a business selling pies to friends and then restaurants. (ConAgra acquired the brand in 1994.)

Likewise, the brand is also tapping into the comfort foods trend by highlighting meals such as Scalloped Potatoes and Ham and Vermont White Cheddar Mac and Cheese in advertising for Bakes.

In its research, the packaged-foods company found that consumer preference for comfort food is still relatively high, and even more so in an economic downturn. Research showed that Americans weren’t just looking for foods that reminded them of their childhood, but they wanted more time to savor it as well, ConAgra said.

The message is, “There is no agenda to a well-crafted meal,” Freeman said.

The campaign also includes radio, interactive, PR, social media and in-store elements. It follows a larger push by ConAgra to expand the microwavable and steaming—or patented cooking portion—of its shelf stable and frozen foods business, especially as more consumers eat at home or pack lunches in a downturn.

According to the NPD Group, a market research firm which tracks eating habits, microwave usage actually spiked 10 percent last year, the most noticeable lift over the last 30 years.

That was mainly due to a ramp up of new, steamed frozen foods from the major consumer goods companies in recent years, said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst with NPD.

In addition, 25 percent of U.S. households—or one in every four families—are likely to steam something over the course of two weeks, and ConAgra’s latest efforts are certainly tapping into that trend, Balzer said.