ConAgra's Jolly Rancher launch takes on Jell-O

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ConAgra Grocery Products Co. enters the refrigerated gelatin category with a surprising brand it hopes will jiggle the leadership status of Kraft Foods' Jell-O. Jolly Rancher Gel Snacks debuts this October.

A licensing agreement with Hershey Foods Corp. is what led ConAgra to marry the Jolly Rancher candy brand with a ready-to-eat gelatin snack. ConAgra executives believe the leading hard candy brand's 90% awareness among kids will build its share of the refrigerated dessert snacks category. ConAgra has seen double-digit declines in its Snack Pack and Swiss Miss pudding brands.

The new line features six-packs of gelatin varieties that carry the distinctive flavors of the top-selling Jolly Rancher candies, among them a watermelon/green apple mixture, a cherry/strawberry blend and sugar-free raspberry. Jolly Rancher Gel Snacks will begin to ship to retailers in October.

$88 MIL IN SALES

Hershey's Jolly Rancher brand had sales of $88 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 13, according to Information Resources Inc. Sales for the base hard candy line grew 10.6% for the period.

Ads in kids' magazines and on kid-targeted TV programming and cable networks including Nickelodeon begin in January. Ads will tout the big, intense fruit flavors of Jolly Rancher candy that kids know and love, now in a new form. Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, is handling the effort, which also will include coupons in newspaper inserts.

According to sales materials, ConAgra expects the popularity of the candy brands to "rock the refrigerated category" by bringing new users and excitement to the refrigerated gelatin arena, which ConAgra said is outperforming the shelf-stable gelatin category.

Kraft's Jell-O gelatin snack sales fell 1.1% to $97 million for the 52 weeks ended Aug. 13, according to IRI. However, Kraft's presence grew in the refrigerated desserts category, including pudding. Sales climbed 3.9% to $314 million, giving Kraft a 61.9% share. ConAgra's sales for Snack Pack and Swiss Miss brands fell 11.9% to $56 million in the same time period, giving the company an 11% share of the overall category.

ConAgra spent $3.4 million on Snack Pack pudding in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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