DEL MONTE AIMS FOR REVIVAL BY TOUTING VIRTUES OF CANNED FOOD: ADS OFFER BRAND AS WAY TO SPICE UP BORING MEALS

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One of America's oldest and most venerable brands is positioning itself for a marketing comeback.

Del Monte Foods, started as a small canning company in Oakland, Calif., in 1891, plans to mount an aggressive effort designed to prove that canned food is relevant to today's lifestyles.

"We are trying to re-create the canned food category and change the way [they] are used," said Brent Bailey, exec VP-marketing. "This is not your grandmother's Del Monte."

CITING REPORTS

Overall, the canned food industry is hoping to get a lift out of a number of government reports urging consumers to eat fruits and vegetables for better health, and recent studies indicating that frozen and canned products generally maintain nutrient levels comparable to fresh produce.

In advertising tagged "Hey, I can do that," Del Monte attempts to show how canned products might be combined with a few fresh ingredients -- such as chicken and onions -- to produce a variety of interesting meals such as a pineapple chicken stir-fry.

The creative approach is intended to tap a trend among homemakers who want to simplify cooking but do not want to simply serve frozen or store-bought meals.

The campaign is built around a series of TV spots from longtime agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide, San Francisco, and will be tested in as many as three markets starting this fall.

BREAKING FROM ROUTINE

In one spot, a woman mired in routine comes home from work, stepping on the same stair step and placing her folded coat in the same spot every day. She starts to prepare a customary meal when a truck rumbling by outside drops a Del Monte can, which bounces onto her counter. By the time her husband comes home, she is in a red dress serving an elegant meal.

In another spot, a businesswoman grabs a supermarket clerk by the neck complaining about her difficult day when she is hit in the head by a Del Monte can. In another, a can of fruit hits a boy on the head when he tries to find cookies in the pantry.

Each spot is tagged "Del Monte. Add imagination and serve."

Del Monte will consider various media combinations in its test, to include TV, outdoor boards, point of purchase, promotions and public relations. The company also has established a partnership with Meredith Corp. for magazine ads and distribution of Del Monte-sponsored cookbooks.

NOW ON NYSE

In February, Del Monte reconstituted itself as a public company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. First incorporated in 1916, it was acquired by RJR Nabisco in 1979. Ten years later, RJR Nabisco sold Del Monte's fresh-produce operations. In 1997, Texas Pacific Group bought Del Monte.

New management is moving to increase market share of higher-margin products, such as single-serving Fruit Cup snacks. Del Monte also is introducing new products, such as Orchard Select, in glass containers, and is considering the launch of products targeted to youth.

Mr. Bailey said Del Monte introduced five products this year, including Fruit Pleasures, with such items as raspberry-flavored peaches. An additional seven new products are planned for 2000.

BEYOND CANNED FOOD

Del Monte, which acquired Contadina in 1997, also plans to add new businesses beyond canned food. The marketer told securities analysts earlier this summer that it intends to add frozen and refrigerated products.

At the same time, it is moving aggressively to increase distribution in the

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