KRAFT PLOTS NEXT CANDY: GAL 'TOIDS LA VOSGIENNE PRODUCT TO GET NEW NAME, ADS

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Kraft Foods' Altoids follow-up will be curiously feminine.

Kraft's Callard & Bowser-Suchard unit is working to reposition a gourmet hard candy called La Vosgienne into what several candy executives internally refer to as "a female Altoids."

Kraft acquired distribution rights at the start of the year.

The company won't divulge marketing plans for La Vosgienne, which was named after a forest in France and was packaged in tins decades before the containers became trendy. But Kraft admitted it's giving the brand a new moniker to shorten: La Vie de la Vosgienne.

ALTOIDS AD TEAM ON JOB

It also has put its Altoids team at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, which created the multiple-award-winning campaign for the intense mint, to work on a La Vosgienne campaign now in test.

The agency declined comment, referring calls to Kraft.

Burnett's quirky Altoids campaign and focus on "intense" mint flavor powered a huge resurgence in the sleepy category, and propelled the brand into fourth place in mints overall. It also unleashed a host of imitators.

Using the Altoids model, it's expected the brand will be rolled out and supported in stages rather than in one big splash. A confectionery market executive said Kraft has been discussing plans with retailers and is using "dainty, petite" imagery in its sales materials, including the image of a lady's gloved hand.

That plays into La Vosgienne's (pronounced vwah-zhee-en) current profile, too. Its signature circular tins are marked by French wording, lush drawings of fruit and florid script.

The product currently carries a gourmet price of $1.50 to 1.75 per 2-ounce tin.

Although current sales for Altoids weren't available, Information Resources Inc. put the brand's sales at $295 million as of October 1998, up almost 18% over the prior 52-week period.

ALTOIDS TUGBOAT

Kraft has been driving that growth with new executions of its $10 million print and outdoor campaign; a just-reconfigured Web site at www.altoids.com; and a new promotional vehicle-literally. In New York, a curiously strong tugboat is painted as an Altoids tin.

The company is in the process of moving into the "hot" flavor mint segment, introducing a cinnamon line extension to back up its original and wintergreen varieties.

HARD-CANDY SECTOR GROWS

Other than a decidedly less masculine brand personality, the primary difference between Altoids and La Vosgienne is a matter of category.

"This really doesn't compete with Altoids," said Lisbeth Echeandia, publisher of Confectioner.

The relaunch will capitalize on "a lot of industry growth in the hard-candy sector," she said.

According to M&M/Mars, which introduced its Starburst hard candy earlier this year, the $876 million hard-candy segment is the largest in non-chocolate candy, comprising 28.4% of non-chocolate sales.

Distribution also may be key to La Vosgienne's success, said Jet Hollander, president of consultancy Pre-Eminence Strategic Group.

"The good news is that the brand has been around a long time and has wide distribution. The bad news is that the brand has been around a long time and has wide distribution," he said, noting that moving La Vosgienne from its current strength in upscale grocery, gift shops and specialty stores to mass merchandisers may be tough.

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