BENECOL'S NEW LINE EXTENSION: CHOLESTEROL-CUTTING SNACK BAR; SAATCHI ADS BACK PREMIUM-PRICED PRODUCT INTRO

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Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Products Corp. is moving its Benecol brand into the snack aisle.

Following the introduction of cholesterol-lowering margarines and dressings last May, the drug marketer will debut Benecol Snack Bars later this month.

Boxes of four nutrition bars, in Peanut Crisp, Wild Strawberry and Chocolate Crisp varieties, will be sold at $5.99, premium-priced like their Benecol counterparts in other areas of the store.

McNeil has committed $100 million in advertising and promotions to the launch of the Benecol brand, spending roughly $1 million a week in media alone, according to an executive close to the company.

TV spots from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, follow a man's cholesterol levels as he changes his diet by eating Benecol products, spreading margarine on a bagel in one spot, bringing salad dressing to a party in another and, in a new iteration, eating a snack bar on the run.

HEARTY GROWTH

Due to consumer desire for portable foods, especially those that offer the promise of nutrition, the $1.2 billion snack and granola bar category has grown 10.9% in food, drug and mass retailers for the 52 weeks ended July 18, according to Information Resources Inc. Kellogg Co. is the category leader with $183 million in sales for Nutri-Grain and $138 million for Rice Krispies Treats.

But it's the nutrition segment of the category that has seen the most growth. Niche players like Balance, Clif Bar and PowerBar that have been sold mainly in health-food stores are just starting to get distribution in mass-market retailers. Balance saw sales rise 99% to $39 million and Clif Bar was up 50% to $14 million.

McNeil's rolling introduction of products under the Benecol banner stands in stark contrast to the efforts of Kellogg, which launched an entire portfolio of cholesterol-reducing products under the Ensemble brand in March and was forced

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