Schwan’s Goes Gourmet

Schwan’s may be known best for its home delivery of frozen foods in its distinctive yellow trucks, but the company is venturing into fancier repasts. Marshall, MN-based Schwan’s Home Service last year launched the Impromptu Gourmet Website selling upscale meals, and this month it is introducing an Impromptu Gourmet print catalog, with additional drops in November and December. The 32-page catalog will include about 70 products and mail to about 1 million prospects and customers, including those who’ve purchased from the Impromptu Gourmet Website during the past year, Schwan’s 12-month buyers, and rented names.

Impromptu Gourmet sells meals for people who don’t have the time or the talent to prepare a professional-quality meal. “It’s about being a great chef at a moment’s notice,” says Glenn Bader, director of e-commerce and emerging channels for Schwan’s. Typical customers are 30- to 50-year-old women and families with an income of at least $75,000. The average customer is one who “likes the creative dining experience [but] who would like to eat at home vs. going out all the time,” says Bader.

Unlike the company’s namesake brand, which delivers more-traditional frozen foods such as grilled chicken breasts and single servings of lasagna, Impromptu Gourmet’s offerings are closer to meals from your favorite restaurant, says Bader. Entrees include Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Chicken Breast, Orange Ginger Encrusted Mahi Mahi, and French-Cut Rack of Pork.

Impromptu Gourmet tested a trifold brochure last November, which was handed out to existing Schwan’s customers during home delivery stops and mailed to rented names and segments of the house file. The company plans to distribute three editions of the catalog annually, for holiday, spring, and fall, each of which will have multiple drops.

Schwan’s has been delivering to homes since 1952, but it didn’t launch a full-size, four-color catalog until 1996. Though well known in suburban and rural areas, particularly in the Midwest, Schwan’s doesn’t deliver everywhere, such as in major urban areas. “Impromptu Gourmet is a way for us to reach our customers anywhere in the country,” says Bader. Orders are shipped via United Parcel Service or FedEx, packed in dry ice and scheduled to arrive within two or three days.

In addition to targeting time-pressed, upscale consumers, Impromptu Gourmet is starting to sell to businesses. Since January it has worked with Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) Distributors, which provides incentive and promotion options for companies, to sell its products directly to businesses desiring to give the culinary products as corporate gifts. So far Impromptu Gourmet has worked only with smaller businesses, those with roughly 100 employees or fewer, but Bader expects the corporate sales to grow.


Schwan’s is not the only food mailer out to serve consumers gourmet dinners. Launched in 1999, Plattsburgh, NY-based Home Bistro sells “chef-prepared meals delivered to your door nationwide.” Two of its cofounders had in fact trained in top restaurants in Paris. Appetizers include Lobster & Scallops Hollandaise; entrees include Seafood Champagne and Roasted Rack of Lamb in Garlic Sauce. In keeping with the culinary trends, Home Bistro introduced a line of low-carb meals (Beef Stir Fry, Pork Loin in Thai Red Curry Sauce) in 2002.

Omaha-based cataloger Omaha Steaks entered the upscale meals market in 2001 with the launch of its A La Zing Website in 2001. The next year it introduced a companion print catalog, though it serves primarily to support the Website. Although A La Zing offers such standards of fine dining as Filet Mignon Feast and Surf & Turf Dinner, its emphasis is more on convenience and enabling harried households to spend quality time together. The tagline on the Website, for instance, reads “We provide the meals, you provide the memories…”

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