Planters doesn't call him him Mr. Pistachio. Or Mr. Walnut. He is Mr. Peanut.
But in recent years, the brand has gone a little nuts for other nuts, including mixes like Nut-rition, which includes everything from hazelnuts and cashews to pecans and macadamias.
But with a new campaign launching Monday, the Kraft Foods Group brand is returning some love to the old-fashioned peanut, albeit spicier and sweeter versions of the classic legume.
The effort -- which of course includes the 98-year-old Mr. Peanut -- plugs the brand's new line of flavored peanuts in varieties including salted caramel, cocoa, chipotle and smoked.
The four trendy flavors, which are hitting stores now, continue an effort that Kraft began last year to seek more respect for the lowly peanut. It began with a campaign launched last August called "Power of the Peanut," which sought to remind consumers that peanuts are packed with protein and contain "six essential nutrients."
While Planters sells a variety of nuts, peanuts were "getting a little bit of the short end of the stick from a news standpoint," said Peter Cotter, senior brand manager for Planters.
The flavored varieties come after competing nut brands -- such as Blue Diamond almonds -- have used varieties such as habanero barbecue and honey dijon to drive new interest. Blue Diamond has even begun selling fruit-flavored almonds that come in varieties including blueberry and strawberry.
Planters has tried flavors before, including recently discontinued peanut varieties such as onion and garlic. But the the new flavor line will get more marketing support than previous attempts, Mr. Cotter said. The formula is also different: The old nuts were flavored prior to roasting, while the new nuts get flavored afterwards, which produces a bolder flavor, Mr. Cotter said.
"This is the most that we have supported a new product launch for Planters in probably three-plus years," he said, although Kraft declined to detail spending plans. Last year, the Planters brand was supported with $36.6 million in measured media, including $12.7 million on the Nut-rition line, which was launched in 2004.
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The flavored-peanut launch, Mr. Cotter said, aims to build upon last year's start of the "Power of Peanut" campaign, which is by TBWA, New York. The campaign uses "Saturday Night Live" cast member Bill Hader as the voice of Mr. Peanut, who took on a new role as a "life coach."
The new ads, which are also by TBWA, include two TV spots that tout the varieties as a "a new way to harness the power of the peanut."
The good news for Planters is that consumers are showing a larger appetite for nuts in general. Sales of nuts and trail mixes grew by 53% from 2008 to 2013 to reach $6.3 billion in sales, according to market researcher Mintel.
The bad news for Kraft is the a lot of the growth has been led by private label. Sales of private-label snack nuts grew by 9.1% in the 52 weeks ending March 23, reaching $1.2 billion in sales, or 28.1% snack nut share, according to IRI. Kraft's nut business, led by Planters, only grew by 0.9% in that time to $1.1 billion, or 26.3% share.
But there is big upside for Planters if its aggressive advertising can draw consumer interest away from private label. Nuts and trail mix sales growth outpaced all other snack segments last year, although potato chips is still the biggest category, with sales of $7.6 billion, according to Mintel. Mintel forecasts that nuts and trail mixes will accelerate to 61% growth in the next five years.
Nut popularity is driven by nutritional benefits, including high fiber and protein contents, Mintel stated, citing a Harvard University study that tied nut-eating to longer and healthier lives.
But for whatever reason, peanuts have not gotten as much of a boost from the nutrition perception as other nuts, Mr. Cotter said, even though they compare favorably to other nuts. That is one reason why Kraft launched the nutrition-focused campaign last year.
A one-ounce serving of Planters dry roasted peanuts has 160 calories and 14 grams of fat, compared with 170 calories and 15 fat grams for dry roasted almonds and 180 calories and 18 grams for walnuts, according to Kraft, which stated it used governmental nutritional data for other nuts.
The nutritional content of the new peanut flavors do not vary too much from Planter's classic cocktail peanuts, which have 170 calories per serving. For instance, the cocoa flavor has more sugar -- 5 grams per serving, compared with 1 gram for classic -- but checks in at 160 calories per serving. Serving size is by weight, so the cocoa flavor, which adds weight to each peanut, likely includes fewer peanuts.