While other food companies look at emerging markets in China and India, Sean Connolly, the new CEO of the newly independent Hillshire Brands Co., is enthusiastic about things occurring at home: flavored sausages and snacks made with meat. He views them as being able to add "provocative" new items to his company's lineup of cold cuts and hot dogs.

New snack foods and meat products look like a key driver of sales and profits for the company, Connolly indicates, as they can serve plenty of occasions, command higher prices and expand Hillshire's reach beyond grocery stores.

"We view that as an emerging market," Connolly says. "There is a compelling consumer need around getting protein into the snacking occasion, as opposed to some of the hollow calories that they rely on today."

Connolly, who previously worked at Campbell Soup and Procter & Gamble, wouldn’t specify products, but says he’s interested in things that require cooking, such as foods that can be eaten straight from the package. "There hasn't been a lot of creative thought put into that space over the years," he says. Slim Jim, owned by ConAgra Foods, is a leader in the meat snack category.

Among Hillshire's portfolio of brands, Jimmy Dean has seen consistent support and innovation, Connolly notes, while others haven’t. One brand that’s lacking is the company's namesake Hillshire Farms, whose smoked sausage is a favorite of Connolly's. "I'd like to see us make that line more contemporary,” he says. “We have some ideas up our sleeve to do just that.”

Flavor varieties are an example. "You should expect us to shake it up,” Connolly says. “We're going to bring some provocative news to our categories.”

The company's most expensive and fastest-growing brand is Aidells sausages, which come in flavors such as pineapple and bacon, mango and jalapeno, and artichoke and garlic.

The Illinois-based company last week spun off its international coffee and tea business and changed its name. The move marked the end of years Sara Lee Corp. took to narrow its focus. At one point, Sara Lee owned everything from Coach bags to Kiwi shoe polish.

Source: www.chicagotribune.com