Kal-Kan hopes for riches in Nuggets

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Mars' Kal-Kan is beefing up the dry cat food market with new Whiskas With Savory Nuggets -- crispy kibbles with soft, meaty centers -- backed by an estimated $13 million campaign breaking today.

The 15- and 30-second TV spots from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, contrast Savory Nuggets with typical dry cat food. In the ads, two research scientists sit atop a 40-story building and drop a piece of ordinary dry cat food. A close-up shows it shattering on impact. They then toss Savory Nuggets and, before they can even hit the ground, cats jump off the street and stick their paws out windows to catch and eat the food.

`A FUNNY TURN'

"It's a funny turn on the old side-by-side comparison," said Ron Crooks, executive creative director at D'Arcy. He said advertising in the category tends to be product-attribute driven, but the new Whiskas campaign whimsically uses cats to highlight those benefits. "The cats are behaving in ways that cats would not ordinarily behave about any food, let alone dry," he said.

"It is an innovative product, and there's a sort of stature that goes with that innovation; we think that the humor really goes with that," said Molly Sims, group account director at D'Arcy.

The spots use the existing tag "Whiskas. What cats want." A supporting print ad will break in July issues of consumer magazines.

The launch of Savory Nuggets, which hits store shelves in April, follows last year's introduction of Whiskas Homestyle Favorites, a wet cat food in a foil pouch instead of a can. That launch "exceeded our expectations and shows what can really happen in the category if you give cat owners and cats an innovative product, specifically one that focuses on cat enjoyment," said John Curtiss, VP-marketing at Kal-Kan.

$1.2 BILLION SEGMENT

Dry food is the fastest-growing sector in the category, he said, and "You've got to continue to innovate in the category to be a leader."

The $1.2 billion dry cat food market grew 7.8% overall in the 52 weeks ended April 23, according to Information Resources Inc., but Kal-Kan's sales fell 11.5% to $45.3 million. Whiskas did not even rank among IRI's top 10 dry cat food brands during that period.

"Whiskas dry brand is part of a very competitive market," Mr. Curtiss said, adding he hopes Savory Nuggets will mirror the success of Homestyle Favorites, which became the No. 7 brand in the wet food segment in its first year on the market. "We've grown that brand substantially. It's exactly the same kind of innovation we needed in dry food, and we expect exactly the same sort of result."

Although Mr. Curtiss would not reveal the budget for the new campaign, Mars spent $17.7 million in measured media for Whiskas in 1999, more than $13 million of which supported the debut of Homestyle Favorites, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

"This will be a comparable kind of launch," Mr. Curtiss said. "This is a big event for us."

The aim of the campaign, he said, is to increase the consumer base by converting wet food buyers with the message that "there's a whole new way to feed your cat dry cat food."

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