10 Facts You Might Not Know about Lean Cuisine
By Suzanne Raga
Since the early 1980s, Lean Cuisine has offered a lower calorie, lower fat alternative to typical frozen entree brands. Owned by Nestlé, Lean Cuisine has over 100 frozen breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, offering up everything from turkey sausage scrambles to Swedish meatballs to cheddar bacon chicken.
1. LEAN CUISINE STARTED AS A LOWER CALORIE OFFSHOOT OF STOUFFER’S.
In 1973, Nestlé bought the frozen dinner company Stouffer’s from Litton Industries and by 1981, the company started offering 10 lower calorie and lower fat versions of popular Stouffer’s entrees. Nestlé called the healthier alternative Lean Cuisine, promising that every entree was under 300 calories and tasted good.
2. AN INSTANT HIT, IT SOLD OUT ACROSS THE COUNTRY.
In its first year of business, Lean Cuisine killed it. Tripling sales projections, Lean Cuisine was so popular that Nestlé had to ration the frozen entrees to retailers because the demand was higher than the supply. In 1982, E. Alan MacDonald, the president of Stouffer’s, told The New York Times, "We think it is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in the food business."
3. LEAN CUISINE INTRODUCED DIET PLANS AND COMMERCIALS TARGETED TO WOMEN …
In the 1980s, Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine focused on women, offering a booklet with a two-week diet plan called "On Your Way to Being Lean." Commercials emphasized how Lean Cuisine could help women watch their figures, control their weight, and attract positive male attention. In the 1990s, Lean Cuisine also targeted dieters by emphasizing fat free and low fat entrees.
4. … AND PRINTED WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS ON BOXES.
An ad from 1983. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Initially, Lean Cuisine was a competitor of Weight Watchers: In 1983, Weight Watchers responded to Lean Cuisine’s debut (and quick success) by tripling its advertising budget and getting a celebrity spokesperson, the actress Lynn Redgrave. By the late 1980s, though, Lean Cuisine embraced the popularity of Weight Watchers by printing the number of Weight Watchers points that each frozen entree was worth. Dieters, then, could eat Lean Cuisine while easily following their Weight Watchers programs.
5. THE FDA CONSIDERS ITS NAME TO BE A NUTRITIONAL CLAIM.
An ad from 1990. via Jezebel
Besides being low in calories, Lean Cuisine meals contain fewer grams of fat and cholesterol per serving than many other frozen food brands. The government takes Lean Cuisine’s name quite literally: the FDA classifies the word 'lean" as a nutrition claim. Because of the FDA, the amounts of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol in all of Lean Cuisines products must be under a certain amount of grams to qualify for the name Lean Cuisine.
6. LEAN CUISINE PARTNERS WITH BREAST CANCER AND HEALTH NONPROFITS.
Over the years, Lean Cuisine has supported breast cancer and health research, sponsoring Susan G. Komen for the Cure and America On The Move. With The Inspiration Path, Lean Cuisine created an online community to support people going through breast cancer. Working with the health nonprofit organization America On The Move, Lean Cuisine funded the Healthcare Professional Toolkit to help doctors and their patients exercise more and eat less. Lean Cuisine also offered coupons so people could get pedometers.
7. A VINE OF GUY FIERI THROWING AUTOGRAPHED LEAN CUISINES DELIGHTED THE INTERNET.
In November 2015, Food Network personality Guy Fieri was on stage at a food event. A Vine user named Annie posted a 6-second video of Fieri—who is known for traveling the country eating incredibly unhealthy diner food—autographing a Lean Cuisine box and tossing it to someone in the crowd. She captioned it "making dreams come true," and the rest of the internet seemed to agree: the Vine has over 21 million loops.
8. LEAN CUISINE HAS BEEN MOVING AWAY FROM ITS DIET ROOTS.
In 2015, Lean Cuisine announced a "massive pivot" in brand identity from diet and calorie counting to broader health. According to Chris Flora, Lean Cuisine’s Brand Manager, the company recognizes that "diets are dead." As a result, Lean Cuisine is gearing up to introduce new frozen entrees that focus more on health trends—whole grains, gluten free, no preservatives and artificial flavors—and less on weight loss.
9. IT'S DE-EMPHASIZED WEIGHT LOSS IN COMMERCIALS AND SOCIAL MEDIA.
The tone of Lean Cuisine’s commercials is also shifting away from weight loss. Using the tagline "Feed Your Phenomenal," Lean Cuisine commercials feature inspiring women, such as a nurse that helps deliver babies and eats Lean Cuisine at the end of a busy shift. On social media, Lean Cuisine’s hashtag #WeighThis aims to get women to not weigh their bodies but to instead reflect upon their life accomplishments.
10. LEAN CUISINE CREATED A SOFTWARE BLOCKER TO REMOVE DIET-RELATED WORDS FROM THE INTERNET.
This year, Lean Cuisine worked with 360i, a digital marketing agency, to develop a Chrome extension that blocks the words "diet" and "weight loss" from the Internet. Like an ad blocker, the extension lets you be online without ever encountering posts about weight loss. Lean Cuisine also created a device that people can connect to their cable or satellite TV boxes that mutes the TV for 30 seconds if any diet-related words are detected on closed captioning.