RALSTON THINKS YOUNGER FOR CHEX

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Ralston Foods is mixing up a new kid-oriented marketing strategy to relaunch its venerable Chex cereal line.

Chex's face-lift includes a package redesign hitting stores this month and a major spring promotion, in addition to fresh ads breaking this week. The marketing strategy is to convince moms that their kids will like Chex's rice, corn and wheat cereals.

The strategy was based on a piece of information Ralston gleaned from focus-group research: Though consumption by children accounts for 38% of Chex sales, moms said they didn't think their kids liked Chex.

To get moms to add Chex to shopping lists, Ralston is sending out the message that "Eight out of 10 kids like Chex!" Redesigned packages for the three flagship Chex varieties will carry that banner, while TV spots breaking this week from new agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, point out that while four of 10 kids can wiggle their ears and six of 10 can stand on their heads, eight of 10 like Chex.

When Ralston Foods and parent Ralcorp Holdings were spun off from Ralston Purina Co. last April, "The Chex franchise became a more important asset to us," said Mike McEnaney, Ralston Foods VP-marketing. "We want to expand Chex ... by focusing in on moms in households that don't already use Chex."

The Chex franchise had sales of $259 million and a total 3.1% share of the $9 billion ready-to-eat cereal market for the year ended Nov. 6, Information Resources Inc. reported.

In the past, Mr. McEnaney said, "Chex tried to talk to kids using line extensions-Junior Chex, Graham Chex-rather than our base product. We ignored the fact that all along our product was very appealing to kids."

Ralston will pound home the message on TV, spending $5.5 million-almost half of Chex's yearly $13 million media budget-in the next two months.

To reinforce the kid connection, Ralston secured a plummy tie-in promotion: It will be one of the marketing partners of the March video release of Walt Disney Co.'s "The Lion King."

In a late February sweepstakes, Ralston will offer "Lion King" videos. TV and print advertising from DMB&B will support, though Ralston coordinated the promotion in-house.

Ralston also will give Blockbuster Video customers the chance to sample the "new" Chex this spring, when the video-rental chain and sampling company Market Source again team to offer product kits free to Blockbuster members renting three or more videos.

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