Marketers target growing diabetic population

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Diabetes is the next frontier for food marketers trying to adapt their products and communications to an increasingly overweight America.

Once-niche sugar-free products are now gaining attention from mainstream marketers including Hershey Foods Corp., Kellogg Co. and Coca-Cola Co. Hershey alone is spending an estimated $15 million in advertising for its new line of sugar-free chocolates. A much larger spending spree is expected from food companies and health agencies as they reach out to the fast-growing demographic.

According to Jerry Franz, national VP-communications for the American Diabetes Association, the increased interest is due to the sheer expanse of the market. Recent government estimates show 17 million people currently diagnosed with diabetes; another 16 million have high blood-sugar levels and are considered at risk for the disease. The vast majority of those are affected by Type 2 diabetes, which is brought on in large part by obesity.

Hershey plans to launch a major print effort for its new lactitol sugar substitute-based versions of its Reese's peanut butter cup miniatures and its Hershey's Chocolate, Chocolate with Almonds and Dark Chocolate candy bars in May. The ad series, which feature the new sugar-free products and quips like "No longer on your list of don'ts," will run in mainstream publications such as Time Inc.'s People and Rodale's Prevention as well as in publications targeted at people with diabetes, including the ADA's Diabetes Forecast. Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, New York, handles.

Chris Wiker, director-Hershey franchise, estimates the size of the sugar-free candy market (excluding gum and mints) at roughly $100 million, and said the company "anticipates taking a significant share of that market and growing it." Hershey is open to extending the line to reach the "under-served" diabetic market depending on market results, she said, especially because of the positive response from retailers, most of whom have sugar-free candy sections and/or sugar-free foods sections. Hershey will also tie in with the ADA as a sponsor of its annual walk, for which it gains rights to the organization's logo on packaging and in advertising.

hard push

Kellogg Co., meanwhile, is pushing even harder this year behind its Murray Sugar Free line with print ads that break this month and posters in 1,000 doctors' offices touting new Fudge Dipped Shortbread and Shortbread wafers. Publicis Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles. And, according to Kim Kelemen, advertising manager for Diabetes Forecast, new first-time advertisers for upcoming issues include major brands such as Diet Coke and Nestle USA's new Sugar Free Turtles.

Kraft Foods has been ahead of the curve. In 1998, it created the Kraft Diabetic Partnership to leverage its many sugar-free products. Targeted advertising, brochures, a Web site ( and a partnership with the ADA now support the effort.

The National Institutes of Health's federal government program, National Diabetes Education, meanwhile, is also launching a public awareness effort that for the first time targets people at risk for diabetes. The campaign, "Small Steps, Big Rewards," features PSAs that humorously depict how it takes as little as losing 10 pounds and adding 30 minutes of exercise five days a week to prevent diabetes. The American Dietetic Association is also tackling the issue with PSAs featuring singer Patti Labelle. Ms. Labelle, diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, has written a cookbook for diabetics that comes out in April and is featured with registered dietician Jeannette Jordan to encourage nutrition counseling for diabetics.

Magazines, too, have taken note of marketers' interest in the diabetes issue. The success of Prevention's first disease-oriented special interest publication, Outsmart Diabetes, last December, spawned a special Diabetes Cookbook in January and a special diabetes-focused December issue to hit newsstands during Diabetes Month in November.

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