LOWE ADDS TO WEIGHT WATCHERS: SHIFT MAY MEAN MORE AD HELP FOR FROZEN FOODS

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H.J. Heinz Co., having promised to return to advertising for its core products, is shifting the Weight Watchers frozen entrees account to Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York.

Spending on the line, until now handled by Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York, was estimated at about $6 million last year. But in the brand's heyday, Weight Watchers spent as much as $20 million annually on advertising.

Future spending was not disclosed.

AGENCY ALREADY HAS CENTERS

The search for an agency was handled by ADvice & ADvisors, New York, and the choice of Lowe was logical since the agency already handles the company's $15 million-plus weight-loss centers.

Neither Lowe nor Heinz returned calls by press time.

The move comes less than three months after Heinz Chairman-CEO Anthony O'Reilly told financial analysts that the company would focus more on advertising and marketing for its core brands.

The Weight Watchers line, however, wasn't singled out as one of those. Although Heinz has remained staunchly committed to its Weight Watchers weight-loss program, some industry watchers believed the frozen entrees might have been slated for sale.

Heinz has taken a pinball-style approach to marketing Weight Watchers frozen foods in the past few years. Since 1991, the brand has had at least three ad agencies: DDB Needham Worldwide, Ally & Gargano and Jordan, all New York.

The company also has diversified the line extensively without much success, moving from a diet to a health positioning and back to diet.

Along the way, Heinz added and subtracted line extensions, such as International Selections and a luncheon line. Retail prices have fluctuated wildly, too, with Heinz taking another price cut last year. But the line's sales were up 4.3% to $203.6 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 26, according to Information Resources Inc.

Contributing: Mercedes M. Cardona, Laura Petrecca.

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