Hot Pockets heat up with effort to lure foodies

Hot Pocket.

In an effort to boost slumping sales, the makers of Hot Pockets are trying to make their frozen meat pies more appealing to today’s food-conscious consumer. The makeover includes slow-cooked Angus beef and buttery garlic crusts. But how will that go down with today’s kale and  quinoa crowd?

 When was the last time you ate a Hot Pocket? Matt Gross, editor of Bon Appetit.com, says he’s never eaten one but, “I know them. I know the jingle.”

Hot Pockets was a hit in the '80s for parents experimenting with a new form of fast cooking -- the microwave. Gross notes the brand has incredible currency with people who grew up in that generation, like him.

More recently, Hot Pocket went after a hipper crowd with pitch men like Snoop Dog and a video complete with girls in short shorts shaking their behinds and a jumbo-size Hot Pocket dressed in a leopard print cape, relaxing in a hot tub. Still the ingredients remained pretty much the same. That's until recently when the brand announced new recipes which it hopes will appeal to changing food tastes. Among the new offerings: Hickory ham and white meat chicken. But Gross says today’s consumer is far more sophisticated about what they eat than they were in the '80s.

“They’ve got Angus beef, but my question is, is it grass fed Angus beef? Is it corn fed? Is it grass fed but corn finished? These are what more sophisticated food consumers are asking,” he says.

But will the new and improved Hot Pocket appeal to the brand’s core consumer? John Stanton is a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He  says for a brand, making changes can be very risky. Seventy percent of new brand offerings fail because customers can get confused.

“What is the true meaning of Hot Pockets? 7-up positioned itself for the longest time as the un-cola,” Stanton says. Until the brand came out with a cola and lost customers to Sprite. “What will Hot Pockets be? Well it has good cheese -- well, what have I been eating for 30 years, bad cheese?”

Bon Appetit’s Matt Gross says he’d like to see a Fontina and prosciutto Hot Pocket. But even with better ingredients, there could still be a lot of skepticism about a frozen meat pie. As one listener tweeted -- "once a hot pocket, always a hot pocket."

What would your ideal Hot Pocket be? Tweet us @MarketplaceAPM

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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