'Toasty' pitchman: Nabisco launches line of Ritz Chips

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Kraft Foods this month launches Nabisco Ritz Chips, a line of low-fat crispy cracker-chips that are "oven-toasted," so, fittingly, the campaign will feature permanently tan actor George Hamilton.

In the TV spots, one executive close to the situation said, Mr. Hamilton suggests that he should know that the chips are toasty crisp since, he says, "I know toasty."

The campaign, which includes TV and print, is expected to break this fall. Omnicom Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, handles.

Kraft recently announced a variety of marketing and new-product initiatives that offer lower-fat options. The new Ritz Chips-in Original, Sour Cream & Onion and Cheddar varieties-are touted as having at least 40% less fat than regular potato chips. Although Ritz Chips are expected to compete in the chip arena and will be packaged in stand-up, resealable bags, they will be shelved next to the base Ritz cracker line.

new face, flavors

The Ritz brand is the leader in the $1.5 billion cracker category, with sales for the 52 weeks ended July 13 up 7% to $325.2 million, according to Information Resources Inc. Ritz Bite-Size Sandwich sales dropped 18% to $114 million for the same period.

The budget for the ad effort was not available, but Kraft spent $20 million on the Ritz brand in 2002, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

According to an executive close to the company, the line is intended as a replacement to the Air Crisps version of Ritz, the popularity of which has waned significantly in recent years as marketing support dried up. Although the Air Crisps brand received $9 million in measured media support in 1999, the brand received no support over the past few years. The executive said the Ritz Chips line, billed on package as "crispy and crunchy," offers "a new face and new flavors."

A company spokeswoman said the Air Crisp brand has been discontinued. However, a version of the product, Ritz Crisps, is still in production.

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