Mars, Hershey weigh in with reduced-fat bars

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Candy giants will back new treats with hefty $30 mil in ads

Confectionery titans Hershey Foods and Mars Inc. are making their second run at reduced-fat candy bars, this time sweetening category spending by an estimated $30 million.

Hershey is so eager to introduce its new Sweet Escapes reduced-fat bar that the company is breaking industry tradition to roll out the product in April rather than fall.

The No. 1 candy marketer also plans a $10 million to $15 million ad splash for Sweet Escapes, which analysts are predicting will be a monster hit.

"This could be a $100 million product," said Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Len Teitelbaum.

According to trade executives, the new Hershey line comes in three flavors--Triple Chocolate Wafer, Caramel Peanut Butter Crispy and Chocolate Toffee Crisp. Two of the products contain 5 grams of fat while the third has 8, ranging from 150 to 190 calories.

DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, has the assignment.

BETTING ON MILKY WAY LITE

Mars, eclipsed by Hershey and now No. 2 in the market, is putting its Milky Way Lite up against the new Hershey entry with a multimillion-dollar national campaign breaking next month.

Although Mars wouldn't discuss spending or creative, it's believed the company will spend competitively with Hershey.

Mars will stress in its advertising that Milky Way Lite is the first candy bar with the right to be called light, which means it has 50% fewer calories than the average candy bar. The bar has 190 calories and 8 grams of fat.

D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, is the Milky Way agency.

Mars rolled out Milky Way Lite, a reformulated and renamed version of Milky Way II, in January. Under the earlier name the product tested--and failed--on the West Coast in '92.

TOUTING 3 MUSKETEERS

The Milky Way Lite rollout comes after Mars repositioned its 3 Musketeers as a lower-fat candy bar last year. In print and TV advertising, the marketer pointed out that 3 Musketeers was always a lower-fat bar although it wasn't advertised that way.

Currently, Mars is running a print effort from UniWorld Group, New York, for 3 Musketeers Miniatures themed "Big on chocolate. Not on fat."

Perhaps helped by that campaign, 3 Musketeers sales were up 17.2% to $22.2 million for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 3 in food, drug and mass merchandisers, according to Information Resources Inc. Milky Way Lite, while not yet national, had $1.6 million in sales.

3 Musketeers claims a 2.9% share of the $747.7 million chocolate bar category, while Milky Way Lite has 0.2%.

But it's been Hershey that has the momentum in the $6.3 billion candy business, with $1.6 billion in sales and a 25.5% share, up 8.4% last year, according to IRI. Mars was well behind with $1.2 billion, or an 18.6% share, up 6.2%.

Both new bars will go up against a marketer with much less deep pockets, Sorbee International and its Dream Bar. The company, best known for its sugar-free foods, rolled out the 90-calorie, 3-gram-fat bar last year and will introduce another variety this year.

MORE LOW-FAT PLANS

Due to the product's success, Sorbee is forming a new division called Dream Foods to market other low-fat products, said Sasha Taylor, VP-sales and marketing.

Sorbee's regional TV campaign is now running in New York and Chicago, themed, "Is this a dream? You bet it is." The 15-second spot was created in-house.

Although Sorbee can't hope to match funds of a Mars or a Hershey, Ms. Taylor said: "I don't plan on letting [the Sweet Escapes introduction] go."

Industry watchers said Hershey and Mars erred by introducing their earlier low-fat bars, which used artificial ingredients and didn't taste good. The new products use natural ingredients.

Copyright February 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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