FMI offers full plate

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Long-established players made forays into new territory while new brands, a yet-to-be-approved "new food" and a previously unknown condition called "Olive Fingers" also surfaced at the Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago last week.

Perhaps the biggest push comes in dog food, where Ralston Purina Co. showed off Purina Beneful, its answer to Iams superpremium pet food, supported with a $34 million marketing push.

Beneful, a dry dog food that ships to retailers June 4, will be backed by print ads breaking in mid-September, plus TV and Internet ads that break Oct. 1, according to sales material. Ralston said ads will reach 95% of U.S. adults and generate 3.2 billion impressions. Beneful also gets a "non-traditional" promotional campaign that includes "viral marketing" that began last month, plus in-store coupon distribution and event marketing in mid-June and early July, along with unspecified event marketing.

Beneful aims to create a new "upper premium" tier in the dog food category between Procter & Gamble Co.'s Iams and lower-priced premium brands. Target consumers are "highly involved" pet owners, according to the sales materials, willing to pay more for a "complete proposition" billed as offering "nutrition, taste and happiness." Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, is Ralston's agency.

Nestle Foods has proposed to acquire, for $10.1 billion, Ralston Purina, which has lost share in the past year to Iams. The P&G brand has rung up more than $400 million in sales at food, drug and mass merchandise stores since the company expanded Iams into those channels from pet specialty stores last year.

Among the bigger entries from Philip Morris Cos.' Kraft Foods, a behemoth made even bigger by last year's acquisition of Nabisco Foods, is Chocolate Creme Oreos, backed by TV ads from True North Communications' FCB Worldwide, New York, that break this week. Kraft's Post unit and Nabisco are also launching new additions to their Kool Stuf brand, including Kool Stuf Chips Ahoy! Toaster pastries and Kool Stuf Fruit & Graham bars, the latest introduction into the fast-growing snack bar segment. Kraft couldn't comment on ad plans pending the unit's initial public offering.

Kool Stuf Chips Ahoy! will go head-to-head with a new chocolate chip flavor of Kellogg Pop-Tarts, also expected to ship by early July, although the company would not comment on ad plans. Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles.

A new offering in what's become a fast-growing dinner kits category comes from Campbell Soup Co., which is launching Campbell's Supper Bakes, a four-item line of mixes for chicken and pork dishes hitting retail shelves in July. The introduction will be backed by ads believed to include TV and print from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, starting in September. Marketing Manager Tracy Brala said the brand's long heritage as a cooking ingredient shouldn't make Campbell's Supper Bakes a leap for consumers.

Supper Bakes join Prego Pasta Bakes, a previously announced Campbell line, which began shipping earlier this month that will also receive ad support from Y&R, expected to begin in July. They join a dry "just add meat" dinner mix category that grew 14.4% to $533 million for the 52 weeks ended March 25, according to Information Resources Inc., on the strength of entries from Unilever's Lipton Sizzle & Stir and Kraft Foods, with Stovetop Oven Creations.

While Campbell garnishes chicken, U.K. import Quorn Foods aims to replace it. Quorn, a meat substitute made from fermented mushroom protein, was billed as "the first new food since the potato" in Europe, where it has become a $150 million-a-year business since it was launched three years ago, said general manager David Wilson. Mr. Wilson said Quorn has an advantage over soy-based brands from such players as Kellogg Co.'s Morningstar Farms because its patented protein has a better texture as a chicken substitute.

As a new food, Quorn needs Food and Drug Administration approval, which Mr. Wilson expects by summer, in hopes of rolling out an eight-item line of frozen and refrigerated dishes by late 2001. He expects a $7 million to $10 million TV, print and promotion campaign from Decker, Glastonbury, Conn., to break in early 2002, likely in the Northeast. Quorn chose Decker, as opposed to its European agency Y&R Advertising, London, because it wants to approach the U.S. market in "a more irreverent, quirky way," he said.

Also taking the quirky, irreverent road is the Musco Family Olive Co., which launches perhaps the first TV advertising ever for packaged olives to highlight what it hopes is a not-so-rare condition-"Olive Fingers." The family-held company is launching the campaign from Havas Advertising's Black Rocket, San Francisco.

Three "Olive Fingers" vignettes, set to debut this fall in prime time and syndication in the Northeast and Northwest, depict people who suffer scorn because of a common disfigurement-black olives on their fingertips-yet find solace from others of their kind. Each ad features the eerily whispered tagline, "Believe in Olive Fingers."

The campaign dovetails with a restaging of the Musco's Family of Pearls brand, whose packaging now includes an Olive Fingers logo, as the company looks to rely less on sales off special retail displays. "We sell too much off display and believe the advertising can bring people back to the shelf," said Jim Wiegmann, VP-sales of Musco, who added that the company also wants to position olives more as a snack food than a condiment.

Also slated for a new campaign beginning today is ConAgra's Armour Stars hot dog line. The pitch, from Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, features a Little League team that defeats all-stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens. The new effort comes as ConAgra moves to reposition Armour Stars as a premium brand with higher-quality ingredients. The TV ads will run during daytime TV, primetime and syndicated programming including "Rosie" and "Inside Edition."

Contributing: Laura Petrecca

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