You know the whole “artisanal” thing has probably jumped the shark when a brand like Hot Pockets tries to market itself as fresh and wholesome. Nestlé, the maker of those little microwaveable frozen bricks (an apt analogy for how they always seem to settle in your stomach), is trying to give Hot Pockets a makeover and convince a generation that grew up zapping the dubiously healthy snacks after school a reason to keep eating them.
Perhaps no other brand screams “latchkey kid” like Hot Pockets, which debuted in 1983 and became the sort of thing working moms could leave in the freezer for kids to make without fear they might burn the house down. But perhaps wary of the kind of emotional backlash that might attend a campaign centered around a tagline like “Hot Pockets: There for you when your folks weren’t,” Nestlé has instead decided on, “Better Taste. Better Quality.”
Implied: When you were a growing teenager in need of vital nutrients, we couldn’t have cared less what sort of crap we were putting in your body. But now that you’re an adult who apparently worries about such things—we’re here for you.
Nestlé says it’s actually reformulated its cheesy little packets of dough, though you wouldn’t seem to know it judging by the results of the company’s taste tests. On the Hot Pockets website, Nestlé touts the fact that three out of five people preferred the “new & improved” pepperoni pizza Pockets—but when you stop and think about it, that’s only marginally better than a coin toss. Sounds like maybe taste testers just couldn’t tell the difference.
There’s lots of wood grain on the splashy new website—as in the kind used for cutting boards, the better to imply there’s actually a chef somewhere making your Hot Pocket for you. “Freshness” in the form of greenery is inexplicably provided by random sprigs of parsley, while Nestlé plays up the new Hot Pockets’ “premium cuts of meat,” “real cheese” and dough that’s baked “fresh daily,” none of which actually means much of anything when you stop to think about it.
Basically, it all looks a lot like a Subway commercial.
Which is probably not an accident. Nor is the fact that the Food Network’s “Sandwich King” Jeff Mauro has been tapped as Hot Pockets new spokesman. Subway, with its (also somewhat dubious) focus on fresh and healthy ingredients, has proven particularly popular among the millennial generation.
Yesterday’s tweens who were once popping their Hot Pockets in the microwave after school are today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings, and it would appear that while they were watching endless reruns of Saved by the Bell, they might have also learned a thing or two by flipping back and forth to the Food Network. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “most millennials, including men, now consider themselves to be ‘foodies’… and they are focused on quality and health.”
Hence McDonald’s recent line of “premium” (there’s that word again) chicken wraps, the launch of which was widely seen as the company’s attempt to lure millennials away from places like Subway.
But it may take more to appeal to the up-and-coming generation than chicken straightjacketed in a tortilla with some lettuce and microwaved packs of dough stuffed with “signature” pepperoni. As a recent story in Supermarket News puts it, millennials tastes are far more global (and vegetarian), too. “Fresh salad with beets, avocados and veggie dishes with eggplants are among their favorites,” the grocery insider reports. “Members of the demographic are also fans of the Middle Eastern staple chickpeas.”
So...does that mean hummus-and-beet Hot Pockets are on the horizon?