Int'l Home Foods links its brands to Nascar, WWF

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The maker of Chef Boyardee and Crunch 'n Munch is placing an informed wager on sports tie-ins for 2000.

Encouraged by a nearly 6% sales gain for its canned pasta franchise after a tie-in with the World Wrestling Federation last spring, International Home Foods is expanding its alliances in the sports arena. It's aiming for its core young male target with a sponsorship of a Nascar Winston Cup racing team and an extension of its WWF program that includes eight new TV spots.

Under the leadership of President Lawrence Hathaway, who replaced ousted president John Bess in April, IHF hopes to continue the company-wide 8% sales momentum it saw this year, namely by "not changing things that are working," said an executive close to the company.

One that has worked: In-store displays tied to popular consumer themes. So, beginning in January, IHF will use quarterly themes, among them its male-targeted sports tie-ins, to promote its multiple brands.

A TEAM EFFORT

IHF kicks off Chef Boyardee's new status as the "official canned pasta of the Joe Gibbs Racing Team" in the second quarter. Armed with research showing that 72% of Nascar fans are loyal to sponsors' brands-40% switch brands to support sponsors-IHF will link its Chef Boyardee brand to the team through TV spots and in-store promotions.

The commercials, from Fogarty Klein & Partners, Houston, will air during broadcast network and cable coverage of the Winston Cup series. Team owner Joe Gibbs and drivers Bobby LaBonte and Tony Stewart will appear in the ads, which feature the tagline, "I take my Chef to all my races."

Consumers also will have the chance to win Nascar-themed merchandise as part of retail-specific promotions that include life-size displays featuring the three team principals. Messrs. Gibbs, LaBonte and Stewart also will make personal appearances at retail outlets with their race cars.

3RD-QUARTER PUSH

Two new spots touting the WWF tie-in break during the first quarter. But the big push comes in the third quarter, when IHF focuses in earnest on its WWF relationship, which it is using to create awareness among new and lapsed consumers of Chef Boyardee, specifically males between the ages of 12 and 17.

That effort will include Internet and print ads, as well as two TV spots featuring WWF Superstars. In-store promotions will include a contest to win a "Superfan trip" to the WWF Summer Slam pay-per-view event that Chef Boyardee is sponsoring in August. Other prizes include free pay-per-views of the event, WWF book covers and autographed framed WWF T-shirts. Lifesize displays of WWF superstar Mankind in stores will feature entry cards for the contest.

Separately, IHF will use non-sports-related in-store activities to reach moms. First-quarter plans include a promotion under the "Meal Time Express" theme, featuring chefs preparing quick and easy meals in-store using IHF's Pam Cooking Spray, Ro-Tel canned tomatoes and Chef Boyardee brands.

In addition to the "meal assembly shows," the promotion will include recipe booklets and coupons that feature the IHF brands as well as a retailer's own private-label brands.

For the fourth quarter, IHF will introduce another mom-friendly promotion with "Cook Up a Little Magic With Your Kids," featuring in-store magicians. A similar magic program in 1998 resulted in "the highest display levels ever," according to company materials. Page newspaper inserts will support the promotion as will recipe booklets and magic trick cards offered in store.

CHICKEN ADDED

In addition to themed promotions, IHF also is introducing new products to drive sales. It's adding the first-ever chicken-based varieties of its Chef Boyardee line-Chicken Parmesan and Chicken Alfredo-to its adult-targeted Homestyle canned pasta brand in February. It is also expanding to Dallas a new Ro-Tel fresh-packed pico de gallo salsa that garnered a 7% share in its Houston test market.

IHF spent $19.1 million on Chef Boyardee canned pasta in 1998 and $16.5 million during the first half of this year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Sales for the franchise grew 5.8% to $325 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 10; that compares to a drop of 6.4% to $189 million for rival Campbell Soup Co.'s Franco-American, according to Information Resources Inc.

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