The effort represents a sea change for the privately held marketer, known for extending its core brands rather than developing new ones.
"The stakes are always higher with a new brand ... but AquaDrops provides a benefit that no other brand is providing, so we're banking on it being pretty successful and innovative in the marketplace," said Mike Tolkowsky, VP-marketing for sugar confectionery at Masterfoods.
Mr. Tolkowsky maintains that the double-digit decline in the overall breath freshener category, which Information Resources Inc. data show dropped 13.7% to $261 million in food, drug and mass outlets for the 52 weeks ended April 20, is largely due to the fact that "nobody has talked about new benefits." The innovation with breath strips, first popularized by Pfizer's Listerine PocketPaks in 2000 and since copied by numerous competitors, has also stolen share from the base category and moved sales to a new and growing portable oral-care segment (pegged at $178 million for the same time period.)
Although Masterfoods has not historically played in the mints arena-even its recent Skittles Mints were more of a flavor extension than a move into a the breath-freshening segment, Mr. Tolkowsky said-the dual mouth refreshment/hydration angle is one no major marketer has broached and so offers a new proposition Masterfood believes consumers are looking for. Like with Listerine PocketPaks, which still dominate the breath-strip segment, "The guy who owns the benefit and is first in owns the category."
To ensure its leadership in the arena, Masterfoods will put an estimated $15 million-plus behind AquaDrops, using targeted vehicles such as print and outdoor and sampling in airplanes, offices, mass transit and other dry, stuffy environments that Mr. Tolkowsky said "could be AquaDrops moments." The campaign, from Grey Global Group's Grey Worldwide, New York, won't be too serious or focused on the functionality of the product, but will tie back clearly to instant hydration and providing a convenient way for consumers to change their mouth from dry and stale to moist and fresh. "People will continue to drink water, but it's not always convenient and some people don't like it," Mr. Tolkowsky said.
Masterfoods, meanwhile, is also at work on new interactive kids' candies under the Lucas brand it recently acquired. The brand, hugely popular in Mexico, is virtually new to American audiences, so the ramp-up is akin to the introduction of a totally new brand. The dual introduction of two brands is a challenge, Mr. Tolkowsky said, as Masterfoods must balance how to "keep solid and growing core businesses growing, but make sure it establishes and nurtures new brands in their childhood." Masterfoods most recent new product-one not extending off existing equities-was the launch of Kudos in 1987.