To the parade of familiar products that are remaking themselves to lure foodies, add this unlikely entrant: the Hot Pocket.
The brand wants to ditch its decades-long reputation as a thawed-out brick of dough with machine-cut blocks of lunchmeat. Instead, it wants the microwaveable turnovers to be taken seriously as a sandwich with street cred among gastronomes.
Hot Pockets, owned by Nestlé USA, is approaching its 30th anniversary by revamping ingredients, packaging and promotion in what marketing director Daniel Jhung calls "the biggest relaunch in the history of the brand."
The hope is to better appeal to the so-called millennial generation of young foodies while escaping from a recent revenue rut.
To do it, the company is stuffing its dozens of Hot Pockets varieties with more upscale ingredients, including premium meats such as shaved hickory ham and slow-cooked Angus beef. The two new types of crust include a buttery garlic option and a crispy version akin to a savory croissant.
The items, made in kitchens in Los Angeles and Kentucky, will be available not only in grocery stores but also via the recently expanded Amazon Fresh online delivery program.
Celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, host of the Food Network series "Sandwich King," has signed on to plug the updated products and potentially even design a Hot Pocket himself.
"It's had a resurgence," Mauro said of the snack brand's public awareness.
But in the past few years, Hot Pockets sales — along with revenue throughout the frozen sandwich category — have declined slightly, Nestlé said. Early last year, the company laid off a sixth of the Los Angeles factory's staff, or more than 100 workers, and trimmed the production week from six days to four.
"People think frozen food is bland," Jhung said. "We'd like to break that perception."