GEN'L MILLS TAPS INTO CRAZE WITH POKEMON ROLLS TREAT: FRUIT SNACK COMES PACKAGED WITH TRADING CARDS FOR POPULAR KIDS GAME

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General Mills wants to make fruit snacks into kids' collectible with a new Pokemon product.

The Minneapolis marketer becomes one of the first food companies to latch onto the swelling Pokemon phenom with a new line of Po- kemon Rolls coming in November. The Pokemon product joins several other lines in the Betty Crocker snack cupboard such as Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit by the Foot and Gushers.

Although General Mills has had few outside licenses to date, it's now playing catch-up with Pokemon and an upcoming Hawaiian Punch Roll, playing off the success of rival Brach & Brock Confections' Hi-C brand.

Pokemon, originally a Nintendo videogame, has become the No. 1 trading card game in the U.S., reaching a broad kid demographic that includes 4- to 14-year-olds, said Dan Levinson, assistant marketing manager for Mills' Kids Fruit Snacks.

Moreover, he expects the Pokemon Rolls to get a big lift from the Pokemon movie, distributed by Warner Bros. and scheduled to debut Nov. 12 "in as many theaters as 'Star Wars,' " Mr. Levinson said.

FREE CARDS OFFERED

Aside from offering kids punch-flavored foot-long fruit rolls packaged six to a box, the new line aims to capitalize on the trading card fever inspired by the Wizards of the Coast trading-card game by offering free cards inside.

Among the five collectible cards, four are existing ones now popular with kids. The fifth is a special gold-bordered card featuring the Meowth character that will be available exclusively through General Mills -- ideally driving collectibility of the new licensed product, said Jonathan Yusen, marketing manager, Kids Fruit Snacks.

Aiming at both the younger set that identifies with the game's cuddly virtual-pet characters and older kids looking for videogame strategies, General Mills will feature 10 different character profiles on the metallic pouches enclosing the Pokemon Rolls. It will also offer trading card game tips on the backing paper of the actual product.

Packaging includes bursts touting the free trading cards inside and General Mills will promote the free card offer on the super-popular Wizards of the Coast Web site (www.wizards.com) as well as its own site (youruleschool.com). Print ads created in-house will appear in November, December and January issues of Viz Communications' Pokemon Comic Books.

Character licenses from Rugrats to Scooby Doo have helped power the market. According to Information Resources Inc., the $452 million fruit rolls, bars and snacks category grew 8.1% for the year ended July 18.

Leader General Mills saw sales for its multiple varieties grow 6.5% to $246 million. Sales for Favorite Brands International, just last week acquired by Nabisco's LifeSavers, were up 6.6% to $98 million, while Brach & Brock sales

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