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Unilever brings sprays to salad-dressing aisle

By Published on .

Unilever will introduce a packaging innovation for Wish-Bone designed for the diet-conscious: Wish-Bone Spray.

With a coming-out party on NBC's "The Apprentice" next month, the two-item line of spray-on salad dressings is an attempt by the second-ranked salad-dressing marketer to boost sales in the stagnant pourable-dressings category. Marketing will likely highlight the spray's better-for-you benefit.

The move dovetails with a slew of other packaging innovations Unilever has unveiled across its portfolio recently as it pursues its Path to Growth strategy of building fewer, bigger brands.

Unilever is expected to charge a premium for the spray, due out this fall, and hopes to recoup sales lost to increasingly miserly salad-dressing users. Sales for the total pourable-dressing category in food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Wal-Mart) fell 3.4% to $1.4 billion for the 52 weeks ended July 10 with the leader, Kraft, seeing sales drop 6.6% to $413 million and Unilever posting an 8.8% decline to $236 million.

How much salad dressing to use has become a big issue among the health-conscious, a fact that likely drove Unilever to the spray innovation, said Matt Patsky, portfolio manager with Winslow Management Co.

He suggested that Unilever sees a chance to sell consumers as much as 1/3 less salad dressing for the same price. "The food industry is all about selling us less for more and coming up with innovative ways of making us think it's worth it," Mr. Patsky said.


But can the strategy work? Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates, said the Wish-Bone Spray will have middling success. "Is this the big home run that transforms the salad dressing category? No. But it has a good chance to reach the segment of consumers out there that want to moderate and control the amount of dressing they use to eat salads in a healthier way."

Last year, Unilever spent $8 million in measured media on the Wish-Bone brand, half as much as the year before, according to TNS Media Intelligence. WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, handles.

Developing a wholly new structure for salad dressing is part of a top-down brand-building strategy at Unilever that has in recent months meant packaging innovation for Hellmann's that includes Big Squeeze bottles and flavored Dippin' Sauce as well as single-serving packets of Lipton iced-tea mix intended to be paired with bottled water (see chart, P. 4).

As with those efforts, the Wish-Bone Spray offers a convenience factor that a segment of the population is "always willing to pay a bit more for," said Scott Lucas, managing director of packaging for Interbrand.

Packaging that offers existing brands a functional benefit is "permeating the package-goods business," from toothpaste to baby food, Landor's Mr. Adamson said, as marketers like Unilever seek new frontiers to fulfill consumers' needs while at the same time filling their coffers. "We're going to see more of this," Mr. Adamson said. "It's a whole new playing field."

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