Hitting the sauce

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The carb-aware era is leading brands such as Ragu and Prego to maintain they're more than just a topping for pasta.

New ad campaigns for Unilever Bestfoods' Ragu and Campbell Soup Co.'s Prego subtly reposition the sauces as versatile ingredients in meat and other dishes as consumers increasingly steer clear of carb-laden pastas.

"We're starting to see a decline in pasta sales and are trying to respond to that the best way we can while not walking away from a category that is very important to us," said Jill Dennison, brand director for Ragu.

Ragu tops the spaghetti/Italian sauce category, which fell 1.1% to $1.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 30, according to Information Resources Inc. Within Ragu's $422 million in sales (compared to Prego's $292 million), Ms. Dennison said the little growth has come from varieties such as Rich & Hearty meat sauce that "suggest consumers are looking to use pasta sauce in different ways."

The TV campaign, an estimated $15 million effort from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, encourages using Ragu in creative ways with humorous spots that play off the names of non-pasta recipes. "Sloppy Joes," for example, features four famous Joes (comedian Piscopo, football player Theisman, boxer Frazier and Evan Marriott, aka reality show star "Joe Millionaire") and carry the tagline, "How do you Ragu?" Prego is extending the campaign it launched for the brand in August from WPP's Young & Rubicam, New York, with a spot featuring Prego as an ingredient in chicken parmesan.

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