Beef makers put freeze on ads for butcher aisle

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A supermarket aisle that held great promise for major food marketers as an untapped branding opportunity, the butcher's case, is being abandoned-at least for the short term-by beef producers who invested heavily this year to promote nationally branded fresh meats.

Tyson Foods last week announced it would withdraw the Thomas E. Wilson brand it had tested in Wal-Mart Stores in favor of unbranded beef. The $25 million Armour Fresh Meat project awarded last year to Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, is on hold while ConAgra Foods finalizes the sale of its fresh-meat business to an investment firm. And Hormel Foods-still expected to sign its joint-venture deal to brand fresh beef with large-scale producer Cargill-plans to develop advertising more locally until the idea catches on.

One industry observer noted that while there have been significant efforts made against branded beef initiatives today, "it will be five years before it's big."

Tyson intended the Thomas E. Wilson brand it acquired from IBP last year to be extended to fresh beef at other retail chains besides Wal-Mart. But a spokesman said last week the company faced challenges in marketing case-ready branded beef to retailers, who "see their beef programs as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition."

Industry insiders cite instead the reality that other retailers eschewed Thomas E. Wilson because they considered it Wal-Mart's private-label brand, while Wal-Mart itself announced plans to go to unbranded beef as of Oct. 1 because of either real or perceived quality issues with the brand. The Tyson spokesman said, "We are backing away from branded beef for the time being, but will leave the door open." One food-marketing executive said he thinks Tyson will likely try to brand fresh beef again within a year.

name game

Tyson spent $11 million in measured media on the Thomas E. Wilson brand during the first five months of this year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, mostly to tout a line of pre-cooked pork and beef roasts that it will now market under the Tyson banner. But "branded [uncooked] beef in Wal-Mart was 80% of Thomas E. Wilson sales," said one meat-marketing executive. Sales for the Thomas E. Wilson entrees totaled only $14 million for the 52 weeks ended July 14, according to Information Resources, Inc.

Tyson plans to extend the Tyson name to fresh pork, which has been an easier nut to crack for marketers, including Hormel with its successful Always Tender line, and Smithfield Foods' Lean Generation Pork and Smithfield Ham. (AA, Sept. 24, 2001, P. 6.)

some risks

While such a move "eliminates Tyson having to spend marketing dollars behind two brands," Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Dave Nelson said in a note recently, there is a risk to brand equity because Tyson has been so positively identified with chicken.

ConAgra will continue to push the Armour name for hot dogs and pre-cooked items-with an initiative planned for the brand early next year, according to Steve Silk, president of ConAgra's Refrigerated Foods Group. Hormel's new Precept Foods unit, developed to market around the Cargill joint venture, will use Hormel agency BBDO Worldwide, Minneapolis, a unit of Omnicom Group, to develop what will initially be retail-specific advertising against the Hormel fresh-beef brand as it signs up new grocery accounts. But national marketing is expected to be a way off. Meanwhile, Joe Swedberg, VP-marketing of Hormel meat products, said it will extend the "Today's Flavor" campaign for its Fully Cooked Entrees from spot TV used this year to national TV beginning later this month.

Smithfield, meanwhile, is still mulling its own foray into branded beef under its recently acquired Packerland unit. Lawler Ballard Van Durand, Birmingham, Alabama is its agency.

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