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With a Flash, Hormel Foods Takes on Fried Chicken

Joe Mellenbruch | June 4, 2024

Impact | The Originate Initiative

Behind the scenes: How Hormel Foods turned the category on its head with a never-before-seen approach to fried chicken breast.

Fried chicken, particularly on salads and in sandwiches, has grown in popularity, but for foodservice providers, this has created a problem. Fried chicken from scratch is time-consuming and messy. For those who chose the more convenient pre-cooked alternative, all of the chicken breast products on the market were essentially the same. For most manufacturers, the mindset was, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

“The rules of fried chicken breast were begging to be broken,” said Blake Flores, director of marketing for the Foodservice division at Hormel Foods. “Traditional chicken manufacturers have been making cooked chicken breasts for years, decades even. We saw that the market was begging for something new.” Believing that growth of the category is still miles away from its peak, Flores and the Foodservice team at Hormel Foods created an all-new, innovative fried chicken breast that is disrupting the industry.

While traditional fried chicken-breast manufacturers produce slight variations between product offerings — such as size, flavor profile and price point — all of them largely mirror each other in foundational components. Each product is pre-cooked and pre-fried, and despite this, all still require 6-7 minutes to prepare in the fryer.

Seeing an unfulfilled need in the marketplace, the innovators at Hormel Foods began working to develop a product that solved operator pain points while outperforming the competition on both taste and ease of execution. Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast emerged from those efforts, and the response from foodservice operators has been overwhelmingly positive.

It’s fun for our sales team to go out there and disrupt the fried chicken breast market under the Hormel Foodservice flag

Blake Flores, director of marketing for the Foodservice division at Hormel Foods

Making a Difference

Tony Boen, vice president of purchasing for Grandma’s Saloon & Grill in Duluth, Minnesota, had long been in search of a quality fried chicken-breast product for his restaurant. Like many other foodservice operators, Boen and his staff had previously been working with a standard pre-breaded, pre-fried chicken breast, a product like many others on the market. That changed when he first encountered Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast.

“This is a gamechanger for us,” Boen said. “I’ve been looking the last 15 years for a chicken that I can do, that I can serve our guests and be proud of, without overbearing my fryers and without overworking my staff.”

For establishments like Grandma’s Saloon & Grill, fryer space in the kitchen is perhaps the most valuable real estate in the entire restaurant. Back of house, there is no area more crucial, and according to Boen, his fryers are almost always full. Efficiency is the name of the game, and with Flash 180™ Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast, that’s the idea. Pre-fried chicken breasts cooked from frozen take at least five minutes, oftentimes longer. When cooking chicken breast from raw, it can take up to 10 minutes, let alone the mess and the risk. With the Flash 180™ brand, the pre-cooked product is fried to crispy perfection in three minutes tops.

“It’s so versatile,” Boen said. “It tastes great. All we do is throw some panko on it, drop it in the fryer, and boom, a minute and a half later it’s on its way to the customer. A minute and a half. That’s insane.”

“Every customer last week walked out the door with a smile on their face after eating that sandwich, and that’s the value,” Boen continued. “That’s where it’s worth it to me. It saves me labor, it saves me time, and it gives me a happy customer.”

Just the Beginning

When Hormel Foods made its annual splash at the National Restaurant Show last month in Chicago, the Flash 180™ brand was displayed prominently at the heart of the company’s showstopper booth. Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast was, of course, on display as members of the company’s Foodservice team demonstrated the product’s preparation process from beginning to end. Curious onlookers were then treated to samples, which seemed to inspire both satisfaction and shock.

“People are at first a little bit surprised to see that Hormel Foods can do a great fried chicken breast,” Flores said. “It’s been really well received. People see it, they’re surprised, and then when they start talking, we hear, ‘OK, I love this. How do I buy this?’”

The Foodservice team at Hormel Foods likes the sound of that, and its direct sales team has been instrumental in the product’s early success.

“Our Hormel Foodservice sales team deserves the most credit for the success of our Flash 180™ brand,” Flores said. “The chicken goes through a unique process and isn’t the least-expensive option on the market for foodservice operators. That said, our sales team knows how to communicate a value proposition — they do this every day, face-to-face — and the Flash 180™ brand has a one-of-a-kind value proposition. The team has quickly learned how to effectively sell on the benefits of this breakthrough innovation.”

And the company is only getting started with its new Flash 180™ brand. In the near future, a smaller, 3-ounce version of the Battered Sous Vide Chicken Breast will be made available, answering the call of foodservice operators who want to explore smaller sandwich applications, like a spicy chicken biscuit. Other product iterations are also being explored, Flores said, as Hormel Foods ventures to broaden its presence in a category that is hungry for innovation.

“We aren’t a traditional chicken manufacturer, which is the very reason we’re best equipped to disrupt this category,” Flores said, “because sometimes to truly disrupt a category, it’s often best to be category-adjacent. It’s an advantage for us to not be burdened by years of fried chicken-breast tradition, and we want to capitalize on that.”