LOOKING FOR MR. PEANUT

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As if retailers didn't have enough competition this holiday season, Nabisco Biscuit Co. is trying to lure shoppers with a catalog of licensed merchandise.

Is there a market for SnackWell's gym bags, Mr. Peanut dolls or a toy train tugging a LifeSavers tank car and a Premium saltines caboose? Nabisco is trying to find out. The first "small-scale," 24-page mailing went out nationwide two weeks ago, and another will drop before Christmas.

"The idea came from watching the stuff that sells in our company store," said Hans Birkholz, director of Nabisco direct marketing. "If our employees are buying it, maybe other people want the opportunity, too."

Nabisco mailed the catalog to employees and to customers who've responded to Nabisco promotions. The marketer also rented mailing lists targeting catalog shoppers who buy collectibles, he said.

Nabisco might be hard-pressed to find previous purchasers of the more unique catalog items, like the Pet-On-The-Go set. The insulated, plaid travel bag holds food, treats and a water jug for Rex or Fluffy.

Nabisco isn't the first package-goods company to pull an L.L. Bean. Coca-Cola Co. launched a 40-page catalog in the fall of 1993 after witnessing healthy retail sales of licensed merchandise. The catalog, mailed four times a year, has reached 15 million homes to date, and Coca-Cola is considering mailing it abroad, said a spokeswoman.

Nabisco says orders so far are greater than expected, but the mother of Oreos sees the catalog as more than a sales outlet: It's also great advertising, Mr. Birkholz said.

"An FSI stays in the house for one week, but this catalog will stay an average of six weeks," he said. "Just look at the cover-it shouts Nabisco!'

Lisa Greim contributed to this story.

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