How a New Package Form Put Perdue Back on Top

In 1994, Perdue introduced Perdue Short Cuts—strips of fully cooked chicken breast—to the refrigerated aisle, creating a new category of meal ingredients. Despite a steady stream of competitive launches over the years, Perdue remained the category frontrunner for nearly two decades. However, around 2012, Perdue began losing 3-4% market share per year—and eventually lost its first-place standing, too.

“After two years of declining sales, we really started questioning what was going on in the category. Was our product still delivering on consumers’ needs? Through consumer research, we discovered that our buyers were satisfied with the product quality and taste. Our weakness was our packaging—consumers felt it wasn’t as convenient or easy-to-open as they would’ve liked. They also viewed the product as over-packaged; it was bulky, and it took up precious real estate in their refrigerators,” explained Gail McWilliam, vice president of marketing at Perdue.

In addition to wanting to delight its current buyers, the brand had aspirations to reach new consumers. “Through focus groups, we discovered that the current packaging was inhibiting us from attracting new buyers. To do that, we needed our package claims—such as the high protein content—to be stronger,” said McWilliam. Moreover, although Perdue Short Cuts carved breast strips was the only brand that offered resealable packaging at the time, non-buyers weren’t aware of this benefit.

While a package update seemed like the obvious solution, the team still needed to ensure the rest of the organization was on board. “Any time you’re making a package structure change, it’s considered risky. It required our operations team to really get behind the idea—we needed them to streamline the process to ensure we wouldn’t be adding costs. First and foremost, we wanted to meet the consumer need, but we needed to show that there was greater reward than there was risk. The consumer research we had done also played a big role in making all stakeholders comfortable with what was perceived to be a dramatic change in format,” explained McWilliam.

Once the team secured the green light, they engaged an agency partner to develop a range of packaging options. “We took five different packages into quantitative consumer testing, both online and in-store. There were different form options—we looked at trays where you can peel and reseal the top, we looked at the tub form used for lunch meats, along with some other configurations. What we found was that these forms weren’t as convenient as the bag because they took up too much space in the refrigerator, a big issue since many consumers were storing the product in a meat drawer,” explained McWilliam.

Before and After

“Reflecting back on the research, the online eye-tracking studies that we conducted with consumers were probably the most valuable piece. In addition to overall standout performance, we were able to really understand what consumers were noticing first on our package compared to what they were noticing first on key competitors’ designs,” she continued.

Based on these findings, the team confirmed that there were three key areas for improvement: package structure, claims, and improving the appetite appeal of the product. “Resealability was the number one advantage that we had, and we needed to play it up. For the new package, we called out the high protein content and the fact that we offered more product than competitors to enhance price-value perceptions. We also emphasized the product’s taste and texture—we really focused in on that product shot, but we also enhanced the transparent window so consumers could appreciate the product quality. The older package had a window, but the contents were hidden behind a glossy bag and you had to shake the box to see the product, so the new design brought it to the forefront,” said McWilliam.

Leveraging their consumer research, Perdue’s sales team was able to protect their distribution and shelf position by demonstrating to retailers that the new Perdue Short Cuts packaging could grow the category. In 2014, the new package hit store shelves.

Soon after launch, the brand noticed an uptick in sales. “Our panel data showed that we were not only bringing in more consumers, but our current users were actually increasing the number of packages they were purchasing, which we attribute to the space-saving benefits of the new package,” explained McWilliam. The Nielsen Design Impact Award analysis confirmed that the new structure was a hit with consumers, with nearly three times as many consumers preferring the new package to the old one.

Originally, the team had set a goal to grow the brand by at least 4% in the year following the redesign—but it quickly became clear that the redesign would dramatically over-deliver. “The results in the first year were phenomenal; our year-over-year dollar sales increased by 20%. Within four to six months, we had reclaimed our category lead. The year after that, we continued to see double-digit growth,” said McWilliam.


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