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Mars Inc.'s Uncle Ben's unit is testing a calcium-fortified rice as part of a wider strategy to return the company to more active marketing with new products and a unified ad approach.

Uncle Ben's Calcium Plus, a first in the category, will be the most ambitious of the marketer's new lines. But it's not the only one.

Uncle Ben's is pursuing the ethnic niche with Oriental-style Kan Tong rices, testing on the West Coast, and New Orleans and Caribbean-style rice and beans combinations in the South.

The plan is to bring some excitement to the category, a $1 billion business in supermarkets, said Franchise Director Bill Schultz. Rice consumed away from home is growing faster, driven by eating out generally and the rise of ethnic food restaurants.


Calcium Plus began distribution in less than 20% of the country last month; Mr. Schultz declined to name the areas. It will gradually be increased to a national level.

Uncle Ben's, which has done minimal advertising for rices in the past few years, will support Calcium Plus with spot TV, professional communications and public relations. Mars spent $7 million on ads for Uncle Ben's during the first nine months of 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The most unusual aspect of the marketing program, handled by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, is a print effort with creative targeted to the specific magazine in which it will run.

For example, Mr. Schultz said the Parenting print ad will show children with the tagline, "Don't you wish they drank as much milk as they did cola?"

Fitness publications will get exercise-themed ads.

TV advertising will tell consumers they need more than three glasses of milk a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle and that "Uncle Ben's can help." The commercial features a cow that's surprised by the news and, at the close, the rice box opens up and "moos."

Calcium has been a marketing hot button before. Procter & Gamble Co. in the early 1990s tried it in a number of food products, since discontinued. SmithKline Beecham earlier revived its Tums antacid brand by adding calcium.


Though the marketing effectiveness of calcium in foods is as yet unproven, Mr. Schultz, a P&G alumnus, said pairing an inherently "healthy" food like rice with the ingredient is a more bankable proposition than a calcium-fortified snack.

After the introductory ads, Uncle Ben's Calcium Plus will be melded into the umbrella ad theme "The best cooks cook with Uncle Ben's," now being used for its Country Inn rices.

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