FAMOUS AMOS GETS 1ST NAT'L PUSH FROM KEEBLER: NEWEST OWNER TO FOCUS HEAVILY ON BRAND'S CHOCOLATE-CHIP HERITAGE

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Famous Amos is back.

Twenty-five years and seven owners after the chocolate chip cookie line was created by founder Wally Amos, the brand is being relaunched with its first national distribution program and marketing campaign.

Beginning in May, Famous Amos is getting a packaging facelift, two new flavors and a national promotion courtesy of Keebler Co., which bought President Baking, the Famous Amos brand owner, last year.

"This is a very exciting opportunity with Keebler," said Tor Carter, product manager at Murray Biscuit Co., a division of President Baking. "Famous Amos is unique in cookies, but we lacked the resources" for a major national launch before Keebler. "There's tremendous upside to this brand."

COOKIE CALLING CARDS

The Famous Amos odyssey began in 1975 when Mr. Amos, a talent agent for the William Morris Agency, began baking his signature bite-sized chocolate chips as "calling cards" for his clientele in Los Angeles. The cookies caught on so well he quit his day job to make them full time, and the brand thrived on the West Coast.

Expansion to the East Coast came with distribution in Bloomingdale's and other high-end department stores, and Mr. Amos began selling the cookies via pushcarts on the streets of New York. By the mid-80s, Famous Amos sales stood at more than $10 million.

But Mr. Amos made some ill-fated forays in related categories, such as diet chocolate soda and cocoa. And he gave up too much control to outside investors and ended up being squeezed out of the company before it was sold to the Bass brothers in 1984.

The company changed hands three more times before ending up at President Baking in 1992.

Under President's ownership, Famous Amos got "a very minimal budget and regional grass-roots [marketing] program," but no major push, said Mr. Carter. And the brand was stuck in regional markets, namely the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest.

Even without national distribution and ad support, however, Famous Amos managed a respectable $54 million in sales, according to Information Resources Inc., up 3.8%, to a 1.5% share of the total cookie category for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3. That's almost comparable to Keebler's Sandies line, with $65.9 million in sales during that period, and to Nabisco's Nilla Wafers with revenues of $71.7 million.

NEW PACKAGING

For that reason, Keebler has high hopes for the relaunch. To start, the company redesigned the packaging. Keebler also is testing on the West Coast a new concept for Famous Amos: a stand-up, resealable, 16-ounce pouch. It's going back to its roots, as well-chocolate chips.

"We'd lost sight of [chocolate chips]," said Mr. Carter, noting that over the years lines had been added such as reduced-fat fruit bars and low-fat Snaps.

"We're focusing on maintaining that chocolate-chip heritage" now, he said, with two new varieties: toffee chocolate chip and oatmeal chocolate chip with walnuts.

The only non-chocolate chip style being retained is a creme sandwich line.

Another facet of the marketing push will be a national consumer promotion breaking in July, called "Chip It, Sink It, Win It." In the promotion, executed by Mars Advertising, Southfield, Mich., consumers will enter a sweepstakes through in-store tear pads. The winner receives a trip to a Florida resort to sink a chip shot. If he or she sinks it, the golfer will win $1 million.

BRAND MAY LAND AT BURNETT

It would seem a hole-in-one for Keebler to sign up Mr. Amos for its planned summer advertising campaign. But Mr. Carter said nothing is firmed up about the advertising, nor is there an official agency assignment. He said, however, he expects the brand to land at Keebler's agency, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago.

Mr. Amos will make appearances on behalf of the brand at trade shows and events.

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