McNeil plans renewed blitz for trio of nutraceuticals

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With a beefed-up marketing team and a former PepsiCo executive at the helm, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Nutritionals unit plans a surge of marketing support this year.

The influx of media spending for its Splenda, Viactiv and Lactaid brands will be well beyond the $26 million put behind the nutraceuticals last year. The marketing staff will also be buttressed by a third as part of J&J's recognition of the increasing role of nutrition in health care, said Debra A. Sandler, VP-marketing and strategic ingredient technology for the Nutritionals unit. "We view ourselves as the greatest health-care company in the world, yet we were not quite playing in this space," said Ms. Sandler, a 13-year PepsiCo veteran.

The division, formerly part of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and spun off as a separate company in 2001, has been growing rapidly, with revenue up roughly 50% in 2002, mostly on sales spikes for its Splenda sugar substitute and Viactiv calcium supplements. Ms. Sandler expects bigger and broader efforts this year-taking a page from what she calls the "big-idea marketing of Pepsi"-will help grow sales even more.

sweet success

Splenda has shown an incredible growth trajectory since its 2001 launch, with sales up 68% to $53 million for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, according to Information Resources Inc. The brand is fast encroaching on Merisant Co.'s Equal brand and Cumberland Packing Co.'s Sweet `N Low, both of which have seen declining sales of late (Ms. Sandler contends McNeil data show the brand ranks second in the $250 million category, above Sweet `N Low).

Splenda's marketing will be "kicked up a notch" with more provocative TV and print copy from Alchemy, a unit of Interpublic's Lowe & Partners Worldwide, that touts the brand as the sweet without the calories. The pitch is "more emotional than functional," Ms. Sandler said, as is a substantially bigger TV and print campaign breaking this month for Viactiv. The creative plays off research that showed "women viewed the brand not as medicine but as something that empowered them to live a longer, better life," Ms. Sandler said.

Lactaid will also benefit from McNeil's aggressiveness, especially on the growing dairy side of the business where it partners with HP Hood. McNeil hopes to buoy such growth with innovations including the national rollout of a soy-milk line this month.

Learning to balance marketing of science and taste messages has been difficult for McNeil. The company pulled its consumer marketing campaign for Benecol in 1999 after the $15 million TV effort failed to successfully build the brand, and the marketer decided instead to reach out directly to health-care professionals. Ms. Sandler said that consumer copy is now "less about science and more about great-tasting food." Separate efforts will support the brands among health professionals.

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