BLIMPIE ADDS PASTA, TACO CHAINS TO ITS FAST-FOOD STABLE

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Blimpie International, parent of the Blimpie Subs & Salads chain, signed an agreement to acquire a majority stake in a six-unit Hawaiian taco chain called Maui Tacos and is launching another brand created in-house, Pasta Central.

For now, neither new concept will be featured in advertising. But the company, which just aired its first national TV advertising on ESPN last summer, is evaluating its future use of national TV.

SPENDING $12 MIL ON MARKETING

Blimpie said it is currently spending $12 million on marketing; according to Competitive Media Reporting, the chain spent $2.6 million in measured media last year, via agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York.

Blimpie marketing spending is expected to increase to $14 million in 1998, said Anthony Conza, Blimpie chairman-CEO.

SEPARATE BRAND TEAMS

Blimpie will treat each of its new brands separately, with independent marketing and management teams, Mr. Conza said. He added that while Kirshenbaum may be asked to handle advertising for the new concepts, he envisions having a different agency team on each brand.

"We have a terrific relationship with [Kirshenbaum], so certainly they would be the agency of choice," he said.

In the past, Blimpie has partnered with other fast-food brands, including Dunkin' Donuts and Little Caesars pizza. But Blimpie wanted an internal roster of brands over which it would have complete control. Blimpie will not stop working with other companies, however, said Mr. Conza.

Maui Tacos, created in 1993, features Mexican fare and dishes marinated in Hawaiian spices and juices. Test units under Blimpie ownership are slated to open in Atlanta next spring.

Pasta Central was created to offer customers a takeout dinner option, and will be paired with the Blimpie brand, which does 75% of its business at lunch.

WHAT'S ON THE MENU

Offerings will include lasagna, veal parmigiana and other baked dishes for time-pressed consumers. The entrees will be offered pre-packed in takeout displays and can also be eaten on site.

The new ventures come at a time when profits are sagging for Blimpie, which has only franchisee owned and operated restaurants. The company posted a 19% drop in earnings to $3.28 million for fiscal 1997, ended June 30.

Mr. Conza said the drop stemmed from a loss of income related to diminishing sales of territorial rights for Blimpie, which have been largely spoken for at this time.

With the additional concepts, Blimpie follows a trend by larger companies such as Tricon Global Restaurants-parent of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC-and AFC Enterprises, parent of Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits, Churchs Chicken and Chesapeake Bagels. Both of those companies are doing pairing and developing new concepts as well.

Subway Sandwiches & Salads, a more direct competitor to Blimpie, is also pairing

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