Why Hormel launched a meal kit for consumers with swallowing disorders
- Hormel Foods' Hormel Health Labs announced a new line of pureed meal kits under its Thick & Easy brand designed to help those with dysphagia — a term used to describe people who have difficulty swallowing.
- The meal kits were designed by chefs aware of the need to make the food easy to prepare and consume, but also varied and flavorful, Hormel said. The goal was also to provide home-cooked meals with the correct consistency, the company said.
- "Many people who struggle with dysphagia at home resort to eating baby food," Tim Garry, director of marketing at Hormel Health Labs, said in a release. "Offering foods that look and taste great is a big quality of life improvement." Meal kits for breakfast, lunch and dinner are available through online ordering or major healthcare distributors, and they can be steamed or microwaved, the company said.
With this line of pureed meal kits, Hormel is targeting the millions of people — one in 25 adults — who suffer from some type of swallowing disorder. Whether the cause is multiple sclerosis, dementia, a stroke or an injury, the result can make eating difficult and unsatisfying with a lack of options for pureed foods. Dysphagia can often lead to malnutrition, involuntary weight loss, aspirational pneumonia or dehydration.
Launching these specific types of food products taps into the meal kit phenomenon and could provide Hormel with a reliable customer base and ongoing sales. These meals can be ordered online and shipped to home addresses, and delivery can also arranged through automatic subscriptions — making things easy for both the consumer and the company.
This is not a new area for Hormel since the company has been developing and marketing specialty food products for cancer patients and others for years. Other big food firms getting into nutritional therapy and medical foods and beverages include Nestlé and Danone, and the market has been estimated at $15 billion.
Hormel's new line may benefit from the increasing interest in meal kits from older adults. According to NPD research reported by The Spoon, 93 million U.S. adults would like to try out the kits, but haven't yet. Reasons for this potential marketing opportunity are customer satisfaction with both online and retail meal kit purchases, willingness to experiment with different brands and meal kit adaptation beyond just dinner. Therefore, combining those assets with a target audience of consumers with dysphagia could be a smart positioning move.
While Hormel is far from the only company producing pureed food products for those with swallowing disorders, it may be the largest and best-known one. Blossom Foods, Gourmet Puréed, Martha's Senior Gourmet and Smoothe Foods all deliver pureed ready-to-eat meals to customers' homes — with some featuring organic, vegetarian and other diet-specific offerings. But since Hormel is a well-known brand, customers might be willing to give the new meal kits a try and trust they will still prioritize taste.
For manufacturers considering this segment, there will be more need as time goes on. According to the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, 901 million people were aged 60 or older in 2015, comprising about 12% of the global population. By 2050, that number is expected to jump to 2.1 billion. That increase in potential consumers could inspire more big food brands to develop similar offerings if these meal kits are a success.