VLASIC TO REVITALIZE SWANSON BRAND: MAJOR OVERHAUL OF FROZEN FOOD LINE BACKED WITH $8 MIL AD CAMPAIGN

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The first major new-product initiative from Vlasic Foods International since its spinoff from Campbell Soup Co. will be a full-tilt overhaul of Swanson frozen foods.

The move will be backed by an estimated $8 million campaign, including the brand's first TV advertising in five years.

Swanson chicken is a $75 million brand, but has been "consistently unprofitable," according to the company. The centerpiece of the relaunch will be a line reformulation with more chicken and fewer bones, as well as Swanson's first-ever boneless chicken dinner.

"We reviewed thousands of consumer comments we've received over the years and they made it clear our products didn't have enough meat," said Bob Bernstock, president of Vlasic.

`MAKE NEW MEMORIES'

Vlasic's ad campaign will use the "Make new memories with Swanson" tagline in a campaign that begins with radio in September and follows up with a 30-second TV spot from Y&R Advertising, New York, in January.

Vlasic has said it will triple ad spending over the next few years to an estimated $30 million for all its lines, with Swanson expected to receive about half of that expenditure.

"In the past, we didn't have the resources to market our products as they were during the heyday of the brand, when everything centered on the family," said Swanson President Murray Kessler, referring to ad spending neglect on the part of Campbell. "Now, we will."

Vlasic, formed in late 1997, pegs total Swanson frozen dinner/entree sales at $300 million, with fried chicken varieties accounting for $75 million of the total.

The spending slowdown on Swanson frozen dinners has affected retail sales, but not by a huge margin.

SALES SLIDE SLIGHTLY

According to Information Resources Inc., Swanson frozen dinner/entree sales were $184.1 million for the 52 weeks ended June 21, down 3.2%, and Swanson's Hungry-Man frozen dinners/entree sales were $148.2 million in the period, down 1.8%.

Mitchell Pinheiro, analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, Philadelphia, who tracks Vlasic, said: "The relaunch is going to be a significant product and quality improvement, with real good chicken and recognizable pieces."

Contributing: Louise Kramer.

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