Frozen Food Distributor Debuts Gourmet DM Brand

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The Schwan Food Company, the nation's largest branded frozen food firm, has begun a mail-order business to compete with online grocers, specialty food retailers and price clubs.


A new Web site and catalog under the Impromptu Gourmet brand will offer a range of complete dinners, entrees, sides and desserts in Schwan's first stab at the fine dining segment. The debut comes in time for the holidays when gifting is at its peak.


"Our strategy is really to reach a new set of customers with convenient gourmet meals," said Glenn Bader, director of Internet and advanced technologies at Schwan's Home Service Inc., Marshall, MN. "It is really a market we have reached into, both in terms of product and customer."


Orders taken at www.impromptugourmet.com and by telephone will reach customers via mail in two or three days. A secure, insulated cooler with dry ice will freeze items like the European Style Prosciutto Chicken Dinner, USDA Choice Beef Filet Mignon, Supreme Stuffed Baked Potato and Apple Dumplings.


Mail order is an extension of Schwan's 51-year-old home delivery service now offering 350 items. Its yellow trucks deliver food every two weeks to customers who ordered direct deliveries. But the company requires the customer's presence for such door-to-door delivery.


Schwan also derives a large chunk of revenue from consumer brands like Tony's, Mrs. Smith's, Edwards, Freschetta and Red Baron supplied to grocery stores.


With Impromptu Gourmet, the company not only adds a channel but upgrades its offering with higher-ticket meals exclusive to that service. The gourmet foods also are available through Amazon and eBay as well as at www.schwan.com.


For those shopping for the holidays, Schwan created two Impromptu Gourmet offers: Meals Throughout the Year and Desserts Throughout the Year. Consumers also have a choice of a four- or six-month meal plan and dessert plan with entrŽe and sides or dessert for delivery every other month.


More specifically, the dessert plan costs $129 for deliveries in March, June, September and December. The six-month meal plan with deliveries every other month costs $189.95. The four-month equivalent costs $139.95 for delivery every three months. A gift card with a description of the meal plan accompanies.


The new venture has considerable marketing support. For example, its catalog dropped this month to 1 million prospects sourced from rented lists. About 2.5 million consumers on the Schwan database have been e-mailed. There is a sponsorship of a CoolSavings newsletter. And keyword buys on Google and Overture help drive traffic.


In addition, a sweepstakes on impromptugourmet.com will give the winner a holiday feast for 20.


DVC Worldwide, New York and Morristown, NJ, handles public relations. Traffic Buyer, New York, is responsible for online advertising, including keywords. Valassis' PreVision, Lincoln, MA, handles acquisition strategy, including list buys, online sweepstakes and offer testing.


The core challenges were to reach a metro audience and initiate product trial for a new line of product from Schwan, said Dominique Hurley, director of business development and communications at PreVision.


"They have a very strong brand presence in the country," Hurley said, "but the rest of the country knows them as the truck service that drives up to your door, takes your order and delivers at that minute. People associate that with the Schwan's brand.


"Now," she said, "we have to initiate a new behavior to get consumers online or [to] call to place an order for a gourmet food purchase, not your everyday food."


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