EXCLUSIVE: Lessons From the Hamburger Helper Relaunch

Progressive Grocer tours Eagle Foods' new facility for a look at legacy brand innovation
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Hamburger Helper
Hamburger Helper has a new look and taste, thanks to a recent refresh.

Even icons need a makeover sometimes. That’s true for people as well as brands looking to shake things up and gain new followers.

Reimaginations and refreshments have become a specialty for Cleveland, Ohio-based Eagle Foods, which is relaunching the 50-year-old Hamburger Helper brand and its animated mascot, Lefty, after acquiring the line from General Mills in 2022. In addition to introducing a new package design, the parent company updated the recipe with herbs, spices and flavors and added other varieties to meet the needs of today’s consumers driven by time, budget and taste.

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Eagle Foods went to market with the updated collection quickly, about 18 months after the acquisition. Part of that acceleration was based on the realization that one-pan, affordable meals were especially appealing in the current marketplace, and part of it was the company’s overall approach to its stable of legacy brands.

Progressive Grocer recently visited the company’s brand new innovation center in Buffalo Grove, Ill., outside Chicago to check out some of the latest products and talk with Mala Wiedemann, EVP of marketing and R&D. “While, we are a relatively young company, just under 10 years old, our brands have a really rich heritage and are really rooted in American culture. Our team is passionate about building brands and revitalizing brands,” she explained. “We are looking to acquire brands that aren’t reaching their full potential where they are today. It could be because they are family-owned business and it’s reached the mass of what family can do for it, or could be a brand that’s in a large organization and the time and resources of that organizations aren’t going up against it.”

Eagle’s portfolio of brands with “strong bones” and growth potential spans snacks, baking and canned milk. Most of the company’s offerings are merchandised in the center store. “That’s been an area that has been quite neglected, but consumers spend a heck of a lot of time there,” Wiedemann points out.

The makeover of Hamburger Helper exemplifies what Eagle Foods is trying to do. “The idea of convenience meals that are quick and tasty is something that’s true today and it was true in 1970 when Helper was created,” she observed. “I’d argue that is even more relevant now. We’re not changing who Helper is or the fundamentals – we’re modernizing it, investing in it and delivering quality through it.” That messaging is being carried through in a supporting marketing and promotional campaign that launched in mid-February. 

Suddenly Salad
Eagle Foods R&D team also developed new varieties of Suddenly Pasta Salad.

During a tour of the innovation center, Wiedemann spotlighted Helper and other products and brands that have been brought under the Eagle Foods umbrella, including Popcorn, Indiana; Cretors Popcorn; Suddenly Pasta Salad; Eagle Brand Condensed Milk; Magnolia Sweetened Condensed Milk; PET Milk and Milnot Milk. Many of those lines feature new additions, like co-branded Popcorn, Indiana and Netflix popcorn; Cretors Caramel Chocolatey Swirl popcorn; Green Goddess Suddenly Pasta Salad and sweetened condensed milk now available in a standup pouch.

A lot of R&D work will be done at the innovation center, where Eagle’s food scientists were recently spotted making their own brown sugar for a natural caramel corn flavor profile, stirring up a batch of Hamburger Helper Lasagna and making a cake and mousse with condensed milk. Progressive Grocer also got a sneak peek at a new offering: a single-serve microwaveable Hamburger Helper sold in a cup format. That item will be rolled out later this year. 

“We realized it was time to really invest in an inspiring space where we could drive innovation, because we know that would be a pillar of growth for Eagle and also how we’re going to drive category growth for retailers,” Wiedemann said.

The company is also investing in tomorrow’s market. “There are some legacy brands that are mature, but have younger consumers coming in. These can resonate with Gen Z, for example, who love to cook, love to find stuff and love their TikTok,” Wiedemann pointed out, adding. “There are a lot of opportunities.”

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