Sun Shines Brightly on Hillshire

CEO speaks to co.’s emphasis on better-for-you, entry into jerky

CHICAGO -- Looking to get a handle on what are sustained and successful bets rather than investing in “fads,” Chicago-based Hillshire Brands Co. is making upgrades to its existing brands, acquiring a new one and making attempts to resonate better with the growing Hispanic consumer base.

“I’m fortunate that we have iconic brands that people grew up with,” said Sean Connolly, president and CEO for The Hillshire Brands Co. Connolly made his comments in late September as a guest on Bloomberg Radio’s syndicated program “Taking Stock.”

A 20-year veteran of the  branded food business, including stints at Proctor & Gamble and Campbell Soup Co., Connolly told program host Carol Masser there are new initiatives either completed or moving through the corporate pipeline encompassing news concepts for Ball Park Hot Dogs, Sara Lee Desserts and Jimmy Dean—all with an emphasis on better-for-you consumption, but also to underscore savory product offerings within that healthy backdrop. The objective is to make strong inroads with both existing and potential customers.

“We want to reinvent the brand, taking into account the dynamic tastes of consumers, and we have to be prepared to update products. We have to also be prepared to move fast to change with [that dynamic] consumer,” said Connolly. “Health and wellness is a centerpiece of our innovation agenda: we want to offer a choice model.”

Connolly said consumers should be able to enjoy a good piece of bacon without having to fret over the health implications. That’s where Jimmy Dean Delights enters the picture to drive Hillshire’s fast-growing frozen breakfast business.

A better-for-you line of Delights features 11 healthful varieties, including Garden Blend Breakfast Bowl, the first Jimmy Dean breakfast bowl without meat in the Delights line. This variety includes scrambled egg whites, diced potatoes, cheddar cheese, peppers and onions, and contains 240 calories, 10 grams of fat and 18 grams of protein per serving.

Three others include Delights Turkey Sausage Breakfast Bowl (240 calories with a combination of turkey sausage, scrambled egg whites, potatoes and reduced-fat cheese); Delights Cinnamon Glazed French Toast & Turkey Sausage Griddlers (turkey sausage on cinnamon-glazed French toast with 240 calories); and Delights Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese Honey Wheat Flatbread (honey-wheat flatbread sandwich with turkey sausage, eggs and cheese for 250 calories).

To reach out more emphatically to Hispanic consumers, Jimmy Dean also released a new Spanish-language TV commercial to promote the breakfast sandwich line. The story arc the company takes depicts a busy Hispanic mother getting her family ready for school, and doing it with some relief from the Jimmy Dean “Sun” that’s a core part of its creative commercial spots. The payoff: “Enjoy the benefits of a Jimmy Dean breakfast to get their day started off on the right foot.”

“Delights has a similarity to the regular Jimmy Dean lines, but with an emphasis on low fat and low calorie,” said Connolly. “People are making this choice to health and wellness in big ways, and its driving our frozen breakfast innovation process.”

Reflecting an emphasis on indulgence mixed with better-for-you values, Jimmy Dean added savory breakfast sandwiches, including Jimmy Dean Egg, Red Peppers, Onions and Pepper Jack Cheese Croissant Sandwiches.

On balancing health with tradition, the Bloomberg Radio hosts broached the ever-escalating topic of obesity and health issues, and how a time-honored company must work harder to achieve a health benefit within its traditional formulations. 

“With all three of our brands, we have to keep them contemporary,” said Connolly, also referencing the new Hillshire Farm Sliced Turkey, which now includes a Smokey Bourbon variety. “It’s a new twist on a standard,” said Connolly.

Hillshire Brands also signed an agreement this fall to acquire the maker of Golden Island jerky products, a leader in the gourmet jerky category. “We are excited to add Golden Island to our strong portfolio of brands, as it provides an entry point into the attractive dried-meat snacks category,” said Connolly. “This highly appealing category generates retail sales of more than $2 billion annually and has had 10% volume growth over the past two years.”