FOOD CHAIN KINKS: THIS SECOND IN A SERIES OF ADVERTISING AGE REPORTS EXAMINES TWO WIDELY KNOWN BRANDS IN THE SAME MARKETING ARENA ONE STRUGGLING, ONE DOING WELL AND THE REASONS BEHIND THEIR SALES FORTUNES.: BRAND IN DEMAND: CHANGE IN STRATEGY KEY TO SKIPPY BRAND'S GROWTH

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In a category that has remained flat for the past year, No. 2 brand Skippy peanut butter is coming on strong.

Boosted by a reformulation, a repackaging, a major advertising program and a big promotional push, sales of the Bestfoods brand jumped 8.3% for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 9, according to Information Resources Inc., to $114.3 million. Sales of its Super Chunk variety, moreover, rose 8.8%, to $44 million.

Brand sales have climbed enough, in fact, that they seem to be a concern to Procter & Gamble Co.'s category-leading Jif. In its new TV campaign, a jar of Jif is shown summarily knocking away a jar of the rival brand-clearly labeled Skippy.

`A VERY BIG BRAND'

"We realized we had a very big brand that had growth potential," said Jerry Brennan, business director at Bestfoods, of the revitalization effort that began in January 1997.

First came a reformulation of the brand and a repackaging in which Bestfoods flagged the product as having more "peanut" taste. That was followed by a TV push via BBDO Worldwide, New York.

Bestfoods, formerly a unit of CPC International that recently became a separate company, spent an estimated $8 million on the campaign last year.

ADS WERE THE CORNERSTONE

"We really put together a complete marketing program, including consumer and trade promotion," said Mr. Brennan, "but the cornerstone was the advertising campaign."

For the prior three years, marketing support mainly had been focused against Skippy's reduced-fat product rather than the flagship.

Bestfoods did lay out some serious trade promotion funds to gain an unusually large number of major displays for Skippy, and launched consumer promotions that relied heavily on free standing inserts. There also was a cross-promotion couponing effort that teamed Skippy with Bestfoods' bread brands.

Price-cutting also played a role. An executive allied with a competing brand claimed that Skippy won its higher sales figures in part by underpricing its product against others. Mr. Brennan said the company took a price cut on its standard 18-ounce jar of about 10 cents, but he said the brand is still premium-priced compared to both Jif and Hunt-Wesson's Peter Pan.

Even so, Skippy's growth is remarkable in a category that has remained relatively flat. For the 52 weeks ended Nov. 9, sales of peanut butter in general were up only 0.8%, to $729.4 million, and No. 1 Jif saw sales inch up only 0.9%, to $229.9 million.

Private-label products, second to Jif as a group, posted a slim 0.9% sales increase, to $152.8 million. No. 4 Peter Pan saw sales fall 3.7%, to $86.2 million, for its flagship entry.

GOOD FUTURE AHEAD

Mr. Brennan, for one, sees a good future for Skippy considering near-term trends.

"About 45% of [peanut butter] consumption is among children," said Mr. Brennan, "but adults age 55-plus tend to consume more than the average." That, he said, is a positive sign for the business and his brand as baby boomers march in ever greater numbers to age 50 and over.

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