Five Questions With the Top Marketer of the Hot-Pretzel King

Superpretzel Dominates, But New Threats Prompt More Attention to Marketing

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Melinda Champion
Melinda Champion
In the world of salted and twisted baked dough, Superpretzel dominates. The brand's two biggest items, soft pretzels and "softstix," account for nearly 70% share of the frozen-pretzel category at grocery, according to SymphonyIRI (not including Walmart data.) And at ballparks, amusement parks and other venues, Superpretzel controls roughly three-fourths of hot-pretzel volume, according to brand owner J&J Snack Foods Corp., whose other brands include Icee, Slush Puppie, Luigi's Real Italian Ice and Tio Pepe's Churros.

But even with this near monopoly on hot pretzels, threats are looming in the form of more frozen appetizer options in the grocery aisle and a bevy of new choices at sports stadiums. So Pennsauken, N.J.-based J&J Snack Foods is putting some more marketing dough behind its flagship brand, including recently hiring Chicago-based Gertrude as Superpretzel's first agency-of -record in several years.

Ad Age recently caught up with J&J Snack Foods VP-Marketing Melinda Champion to learn more.

Ad Age : What are the latest trends in ballpark snacking?

Ms. Champion: There are many more options. Whereas we would be competing for your share of stomach against a couple different items, maybe some ice cream or popcorn or Cracker Jacks, now there's all sorts of ... different foods that you can get at ballparks. That is certainly one of our challenges, is to stay top of mind and create the demand. Part of our selling story is we are a better-for-you snack vs. some nachos that are heaped with cheese.

Ad Age : But aren't also you feeling pressure from options that are healthier than pretzels, such as ballpark sushi?

Ms. Champion: When you think baseball, you don't think sushi. You do think Superpretzel, though. We have this long, really rich heritage as an iconic brand that 's associated with all these fun times. So we are really trying to leverage that rich heritage of fun and nostalgia to bring Superpretzel top of mind with our consumers.

Ad Age : How?

Ms. Champion: That's part of hiring Gertrude as our agency-of -record. We needed to really focus on some out-of -the-box ways to reach our consumers and to build our consumer base. We recognized we weren't leveraging social media as well as we could ... We are launching a Facebook timeline called "mouthwatering moments." It's how Superpretzel has been a part of so many great moments throughout our 40-year history. ... We are also going to be launching promotion called "race to the topping" on that Facebook page ... It will be a Facebook promotion where you can vote on your favorite toppings for Superpretzel.

Ad Age : But isn't everyone doing these sort of things?

Ms. Champion: We needed to catch up to create a foundation.

Ad Age : Are you also growing your distribution?

Ms. Champion: We certainly are trying to grow our distribution in places like cafeterias, like hospitals, like colleges and universities. Any place people buy food, we are trying to grow.

We do have a large school foodservice business and we just came out with a whole line of pretzels that are 51% whole grain. ... The new USDA school guidelines state that they have to be whole-grain rich. So we've come out with some nuggets and rods and shapes that are wholegrain rich that meet ... those requirements for schools.

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