Pfizer Consumer Group, under the gun to build sales for its once hot breath strips brand, will partner with drugstore CVS later this year to test placing the carb-free PocketPaks in the chain's growing low-carb displays. Point-of-sale materials will address the issue that low-carb diets can cause a physical state called ketosis that leads to bad breath and position the strips as "an effective solution for consumers on low-carb diets." Information Resources Inc. data show Pocket Pak sales declined 21% recently.
Andy Jacobs, director-marketing for gum and mints at Hershey Foods, said that "low-carb dieters are certainly an opportunity for all breath-freshening products to go after" both in terms of positioning and products. While Hershey's new Ice Breakers Liquid Ice mints will initially focus on explaining the brand's liquid-filled form, he said subsequent marketing efforts will likely place greater emphasis on the sugar-free Liquid Ice's carb-free attributes.
Industry observers are doubtful, however, that a low-carb strategy could alone help drive up PocketPaks' fast-declining sales. Despite rising quickly after its 2001 launch to more than $100 million in sales, the brand dropped to $57 million for the 52 weeks ended June 13, according to IRI, in large part due to increased competition from players including Cadbury Adams' Trident White.
The strip segment Pfizer pioneered is overall taking a hit, with copycat products Wm. Wrigley Jr.'s Eclipse Flash Strips and Kraft Foods' Altoids Strips both faltering at less than $11 million in sales.
"While there is a pretty big trend out there of people trying low-carb diets, I'm skeptical that the strategy could stem declines," said one Wall Street food industry analyst.
Catherine LaCroix, editor-in-chief of LowCarb Living, chuckled after hearing about Pfizer's new initiative. While she said that the bad breath issue can occur for low-carb dieters, it is only within the first couple of weeks when the body goes into the state of ketosis, and she said that drinking water can eliminate even that. "I don't know that it's going to make their sales soar," she said, "but it's certainly a creative way for [Pfizer] to capitalize on something that's obviously going gangbusters."
A CVS spokesman declined to comment on the test, but said the chain is looking to respond to the low-carb diet craze and develop initiatives that will help it differentiate itself from its competition.
Pfizer spent $35 million in media on PocketPaks last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. In September, a Fresh Citrus PocketPaks flavor will be launched with a major effort from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York.