Within weeks, say executives familiar with the plan, Nabisco will reposition Parkay, a price brand, as a higher-margin line with extensions to include a buttermilk variety.
Nabisco is said to be plotting a return to advertising for Parkay, which received no support last year. The Parkay agency is Foote, Cone & Belding, New York.
SALES DOWN 13.6%
Nabisco declined comment on Parkay, whose sales slipped 13.6% for the 52 weeks ended March 30, to $125.2 million, according to Information Resources Inc.
A Nabisco spokesman said he wasn't aware of any line extension.
Competitors are girding for a strong push as consolidation in the $1.3 billion category makes it largely a two-way race between Nabisco's 27.3% share and Unilever's Lipton., with 50.4%.
"To be candid, there wasn't that much [activity in the category] under Kraft ownership," said Mike Bauer, VP-general manager of margarines and spreads at Lipton. The acquisition "has created a more formidable No. 2 with three big brands. We've got to be ever-vigilant."
Lipton has been spending at about the $25 million level for its brands, according to Competitive Media Reporting, and is testing new products.
Its latest, to be used on baked potatoes, corn on the cob and seafood, is Imperial Seasoning Spreads, a stick product said to be the first such flavored margarine.
Available in Garlic & Herb and Parmesan & Herb flavors, Seasoning Spreads are just now shipping into Chicago, Phoenix and St. Louis test markets. Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, is the agency.
Lipton is said to be considering a rollout of its yogurt-based Brummel & Brown spread that's been testing for more than a year. Mr. Bauer declined to comment on future plans. Under its I Can't Believe It's Not Butter label, Lipton is testing a spreadable form of the fat-free variety.
Although fat-free margarines were a major effort for all players in 1996, Mr. Bauer said the bigger part of the business is in low-fat margarines, accounting for about 60% of category sales. More recently, the battleground has shifted to reduced-calories spreads.
Lipton also has added a fat-free variety to Promise, its health-targeted brand, which uses a heart-shaped pat of margarine in advertising from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.
Mr. Bauer wouldn't discuss plans for the brand, but it's possible ads may feature polyunsaturated fat, which he called a category trend since it's "a good fat that can reduce total body cholesterol."
Last year, Lipton changed agencies on its category-leading Shedd's Spread Country Crock, shifting the account from Stone & Simons, Southfield, Mich., to Ammirati. Stone & Simons, however, "still has some involvement" on the brand, said Mr. Bauer.