BIRDS EYE SPOT WORKS TO STIR UP ONE-STEP MEALS: AGRILINK BRAND BATTLES NESTLE, PILLSBURY ENTRIES

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Agrilink Foods, entering a burgeoning category with an ad budget half that of some major rivals, is using an unusual product demonstration to set itself apart.

In its national TV effort breaking today for Birds Eye Voila!, a line of frozen vegetable and meat combinations, Agrilink ratchets the notion of convenience up a notch by showing the product literally making itself.

The estimated $10 million effort from Cramer-Krasselt, Milwaukee, opens with a woman setting a grocery bag containing Voila! on a kitchen counter. The product falls out, setting off a Rube Goldberg-style chain of events that ends with Voila! simmering on the stove without aid of a human chef. The theme line: "Bring a little wow to the table."

NEW SPOT DELAYED BY SALE

The campaign will have to work hard for Birds Eye in its effort to tap the swiftly growing home meal replacement trend.

Originally dominated by Pillsbury Co.'s Green Giant Create-a-Meal line, now a $156 million franchise, the frozen meal starter category was given a new convenience twist by Voila!, which added chicken when the product was first introduced into test in February 1997. But the sale of Birds Eye from Voila!'s creator, Dean Foods Vegetable Co., to current owner Agrilink last August delayed the launch of the ad. In fact, Cramer-Krasselt won the review for Voila! only weeks before the brand changed hands.

In the meantime, competitors upped the ante. Nestle jumped in with a double-barrel response, Skillet Sensations, a line of chicken, beef and vegetable stovetop meals under both the Stouffer and Lean Cuisine labels. Nestle offered more than double Agrilink's four Voila! varieties.

A $20 million-plus ad effort for Skillet Sensations broke last month. The campaign from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, uses a humorous approach, showing a teen marveling that her mother is making a "real" dinner-by heating up the frozen dinner kit in a skillet.

STRONG HEADSTART

Even without advertising, however, Voila! has shown a strong headstart. Launched nationally last summer, Chicken Voila!'s sales were $35.4 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3, according to Information Resources Inc., compared with $10.3 million for Skillet Sensations, which began distribution last fall.

The TV campaign for Voila! is running on national cable and network daytime programming. Print ads breaks this month.

Pillsbury isn't about to let Voila! go unanswered. The company is introducing three new varieties of Create-a-Meal, supported with a free standing insert dropping March 7. It's also running, through June, a TV campaign from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, themed "It's time for a real meal."

And ConAgra is gearing up to enter the fray with a competitive line under the Marie Callendar Complete Skillet Meals name on the West Coast, complete with a

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