GOOD OLD THINGS IN NEW PACKAGES

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Some of America's most venerable brands have revamped their familiar packaging as fierce competition on supermarket shelves shows no signs of letting up.

Say goodbye to Listerine's barbell-shape glass bottle.

Goodbye to the Sucrets tin.

And hi again to the swirl in Pepsi's bottle and the curvaceous container that has long been a symbol of Coca-Cola.

Some of the changes make the products look more contemporary, others make them look more classic. Some may help brands fend off surging private-label rivals.

"They've been hurt very badly by private-label competition .*.*. virtual knock-offs of the product right next to them on the shelves," said Tony Pearson, managing partner at Peterson Blyth Pearson, a New York-based packaging consultancy. As a result, many brands have lost market share and been forced to reinvent themselves.

Brands especially need to be concerned with ways to differentiate themselves "if a category's becoming cluttered," said Laura Sturtz, senior managing director-marketing at public relations agency Ogilvy Adams & Rinehart. "Repackaging is one way to do it."

Many of the repackaged brands have been the longtime top performers in their categories.

Earlier this year, Chesebrough-Pond's USA's redesigned packaging for Q-Tips cotton swabs. "Q-Tips is the leading brand in cotton swabs, and its packaging didn't reflect that," a spokeswoman said.

Warner-Lambert Co. just switched Listerine to a slimmer, plastic bottle in the same year the brand and its glass bottle turned 115 years old. It also extended the line with a Fresh Burst flavor to counter generally declining mouthwash sales in the $512 million category, plus declining or flat sales for regular Listerine and Cool Mint.

Listerine went to the new bottle to reduce waste, eliminate breakage and provide a better, more contemporary shelf presence. A $30 million ad campaign featuring the new bottle, from J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, begins in August.

The Sucrets change ends a 62-year run of the famous tin. SmithKline Beecham Consumer Brands U.S. in July held a "retirement party" in New York for the tin, well-known for holding household objects after the medicated lozenges are gone.

"The Sucrets tin really has become an American institution ... it's become a constant reminder that Sucrets is a part of [American] life," said Doug Cox, SmithKline Beecham VP-marketing.

But that didn't stop the company from modernizing packaging to keep the lozenges fresher.

Come October, Sucrets will be sold in plastic packages with a window. In addition, the lozenges will be blister-packed instead of individually wrapped.

The marketer has invested more than $1 million in the new packaging. Mr. Cox said ads from Grey Advertising will feature the new package but won't focus on it.

Both Sucrets and Listerine have donated their old packaging to the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, contests to promote the new packaging are under way.

In soft drinks, Pepsi-Cola Co.'s new midsize Fast Break plastic bottle has ridged swirls reminiscent of old Pepsi glass bottles. It's available now in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Virginia, and is Pepsi's answer to consumers' desire for a resealable container larger than 12 ounces but smaller than a liter. Pepsi is using Bustin & Co., Dallas, for radio spots while handling outdoor and point of purchase in-house.

Coca-Cola Co. earlier this year looked to the past for new packaging by reverting to an old design when it rolled out new plastic bottles for Coca-Cola. The containers are now shaped like the curved glass Coke bottles many people remember from childhood.

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