Fans of Pizza Pockets can stop panicking.
The popular microwavable, round, baked, McCain's frozen-food product that used to be advertised as the "favourite snack of teens" isn't going away any time soon. Like Clone High's Joan of Arc, Ty from Clueless and every participant in America's Next Top Model, Pizza Pockets have just received a makeover.
"We made sure that we did not change the recipes or the flavours because we went and asked consumers," said Vikram Bawa, McCain Foods Ltd.'s vice-president of marketing. "We did make the pockets bigger, added more protein, meat and cheese, to make them more satiating."
The newer version of Pizza Pockets, with their oblong shape, ridge lines and redesigned packaging, started appearing on grocery-store shelves in mid-August, along with Harvest Pockets and Protein Pop'ables, the other two product formats in the Marché line. An advertising push is scheduled to start on Friday.
For those not ready to give up the original version, Mr. Bawa said a very limited number will be available in a small number of retailers. "And it'll be in a new format in a bag, rather than a box," he said. "It'll be a very limited opportunity compared to what it used to be."
Rumours of Pizza Pockets' early demise broke out on Twitter on Wednesday after Corner Brook, Nfld., grocer Gene Coleman of the Coleman Group of Companies tweeted they were being discontinued. The company owns 11 grocery stores in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Later that evening, McCain sent out a tweet attempting to calm fears, saying, "Hey Pizza Pocket fans, we heard you heard some rumours. … Here's the scoop," with a link to the company's webpage for the Marché snacks.
Mr. Bawa said McCain Foods had been planning the launch of the new line for about 18 months after noticing a significant change in consumers' eating habits. "Fewer and fewer people are sitting down at a dining table and having a meal on a regular basis," he said. "They are mostly on the go, so they are grabbing something like a granola bar."
McCain's research found that 56 per cent of Canadians in 2012 said they snacked once a day, compared with only 26 per cent in 2010, and that number continues to grow, Mr. Bawa said. "It's not just millennials, it's also young families and young adults. We even found a lot of similarity between millennials and boomers, the empty nesters."
The snacking trend continues to be a significant phenomenon, especially among two-person households, which represent almost 70 per cent of Canada's population. "It's a really high number," Mr. Bawa said.
Pizza Pockets aren't the only frozen food in McCain's portfolio to get a new look and marketing approach. In 2014, the company redesigned the packaging of its frozen potatoes to communicate a more natural image. And in 2012, it reformulated the recipes of more than 70 of its potato, pizza and pocket products to include only recognizable ingredients that are found in home kitchens.
Mr. Bawa said the snacking industry is estimated to be worth more than $2-billion in Canada, but sales and growth in the frozen-snack category have been flat for the last few years, except for frozen fruit.
McCain first introduced Pizza Pockets in 1992, but it was not the first to launch the product category in Canada, nor is it the dominant player. Winnipeg actually saw the introduction of a pizza snack decades earlier, when an entrepreneur named Paul Faraci created Pizza Pops in 1964. General Mills Canada still manufactures the fried product for the Pillsbury brand, which has a market share of 23 per cent, roughly twice that of Pizza Pockets.
Mr. Bawa said he was surprised at the strong reaction many Canadians had on Twitter about the rumours they might be discontinued. "I think it just speaks to the relationship consumers have had to the McCain brand growing up," he said, noting similar reactions to campaigns for Deep and Delicious cake or McCain's fries. "It's a pleasant surprise, I have to say."