NESTLE TO ROLL OUT WHOLE-GRAIN LEAN CUISINE LINE

Latest Food Trend Goes From Low Carb to High Fiber

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Nestle tomorrow plans to announce a new Lean Cuisine line, dubbed Spa Cuisine, made with 100% whole-grain rice and pastas, as part of a bigger push into the health and wellness arena.

The announcement about Spa Cuisine, a

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seven-item line that will debut in January, follows closely on the heels of General Mills' news that it would reformulate its portfolio of cereals to feature whole grains. Both efforts reflect a wider food industry trend that focuses new-product innovation and marketing around high-fiber whole grains, which are being pitched to consumers as a cure for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity and are expected to be greatly emphasized next year in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid.

Sales down for frozen foods
Frozen meals in general have been hit hard by the low-carb craze, and Nestle is no exception, with sales for Lean Cuisine frozen dinners and entrees down 8.7% in food, drug and mass outlets excluding Wal-Mart for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 3, according to Information Resources Inc. Nestle has launched 12 low-carb varieties to stem declines but now, as that trend fades, it is focusing not on the "10% of consumers interested in low-carb diets but on the 40% of consumers who are more nutrition-minded," said one executive close to the company.

Spa Cuisine, which was "inspired by chefs in spas across the country," according to the packaging, features seven varieties -- like Salmon with Basil and whole-wheat orzo -- that include whole-grain pastas and rices vs. the typical refined flours of the base Lean Cuisine line.

Ads break in March
The line will be supported beginning in March 2005 with $16.5 million in advertising for the first half of the year; TV and print ads from Havas' Euro RSCG, New York, entreat consumers to "Do something good for yourself." The ads will look to reassure consumers about the line's ability to balance great taste with the goodness of whole grains, as taste has been a barrier to making frozen meals more nutritious, the executive close to Nestle said. "The Stouffer's Red Box line tastes great 'cause it's high in sodium and high in fat," he said.

In June Nestle shifted its $46 million account for the base Stouffer's Red Box business from Euro RSCG to WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, as part of an effort to reposition the line with healthier varieties including a line of grilled chicken entrees.

Nestle is looking to boost its healthy-food positioning in other areas as well, including bottled water, with the expected launch of a Splenda-sweetened enhanced water line, Nestle Pure Life Splash, and the recent reformulation of its Good Start infant formula lineup to include DHA and RHA for brain development.

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