Diamond breaks open $10 mil brand campaign

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It's a tough nut to crack, but Diamond of California wants to broaden its appeal.

Two years ago, the company changed its name from Diamond Walnuts to reflect its wider array of nuts. Now, with the fall launch of a $10 million TV and print ad campaign, its largest-ever, Diamond hopes to move beyond the baking aisle and become a pantry staple.

"We want Diamond to become synonymous with the word nuts, not just walnuts," said Michael Friedman, VP-global marketing at the walnut growers' cooperative. "This is a brand that's been very quiet, safe and conservative, and it's time to start speaking louder."

With baking on the decline, Diamond hopes to use advertising and new-product introductions to communicate alternate uses of its nuts.

"We want to take [our nuts] more to the stovetop as a way to make meals special," said Diamond President-CEO Michael Mendes.

The new advertising, from Gardner, Geary, Coll & Young, San Francisco, will aim to differentiate Diamond from stiff private-label competition in the $370 million cooking and baking nut category. Diamond leads the segment with a 27.8% share and dollar sales up 21.8% to $103 million, while private-label ranks second with a 15.1% share, and sales up 21.2% to $56 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

Previously, Diamond spent little on advertising, but after ad tests last year in New York, the marketer was able to gain significant market share.

LITTLE BRANDING

"The culinary nut category has had very little branding, so when we come in and support it, we see a major lift in sales," Mr. Mendes said.

Holiday TV spots will run during syndicated specials on broadcast networks and on epicurean-targeted cable channels, likely to include the Food Network and HGTV. The ads will promote Diamond's $100 million in-shell nut business for the first time ever, as well as tout the entire line of shelled walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazelnuts that are now part of the Diamond family.

A year-round raft of national print ads in culinary books as well as some lifestyle titles will aim to bump up sales in spring and summer in addition to the holiday period, Mr. Friedman said.

Subsequent TV efforts slated for the first and second quarters of 2001 will focus on new-product initiatives that fit with Diamond's goal of contemporizing the brand. Among them is a line of Sesame Glazed Walnuts in standup resealable bags touted as "Great for snacks, salads and desserts." The new sweet walnut variety will initially launch in June in California and New York markets, but will be extended nationally in late 2000.

Although walnuts still represent 40% of culinary nut sales, and will remain the "heart and soul of the brand," Mr. Friedman said, Diamond has become the No. 1 seller of culinary almonds and pecans. The goal now, he said, is to gain sales outside the traditional baking area.

"Will consumers believe that Diamond is a viable snack product? The answer is absolutely." To skeptics, Mr. Friedman points to the Lexus. "Nobody believed Toyota could go upscale."

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