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The clock's been ticking for Minute rice.

The Kraft Foods brand-No. 2 in a commodity category-has suffered from a lack of product innovation, the encroachment of private labels and a movement away from scratch-cooked meals.

Even on the home front, the brand has suffered from the change in corporate stewardship, encountering what outsiders characterize as an indifference on the part of Kraft management after taking over the former General Foods product via merger.

"It's profitable, but management doesn't have a vision for the brand," said an executive formerly with a marketer of a rival rice brand.


"Before . . . it existed as its own category," said the executive. "Now it's lumped into [a meals division] with Mac & Cheese and is no longer the biggest brand in its category," the executive said of the shift.

Business Director Dave Lynn, however, said Kraft is now heavily committed to Minute rice, noting that the food giant will be hiking ad spending for the brand 30% this year.

The boost will be put behind three new flavored rices, being shipped to stores in April, and a new TV campaign promoting recipe usage for Minute rice (AA, Jan. 12).

The company spent $7.7 million on advertising for Minute rice for the first 10 months of '97, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

"We're excited about opportunities for Minute rice," said Mr. Lynn, who wouldn't discuss why the brand's dollar sales fell 6.4% for the 52 weeks ended Nov. 9, according to Information Resources Inc. IRI data also show tonnage volume was down 7% during the same period.


Since the brand is such a large factor in the category, as the No. 2 brand, observers point out it's readily affected by growth in store brands.

"When private label grows, Minute rice gets it on the chin," said the executive formerly active in the category. And, he said, "rices have been facing out-and-out rejection [by consumers] for the likes of potatoes and pasta."

Kraft's rebuilding program for Minute rice kicked off this month when the company broke a TV campaign that represents a new approach for rice.

The effort, from Grey Advertising, New York, showcases an unusual phone line, 1-800-Minute-1, that offers consumers instant recipe ideas.

And, in yet another departure from using "Leave It to Beaver"/ June Cleaver-style "Moms" in ads, TV spots showcase a more down-to-earth image of a harried, heavyset woman.

The tagline, "The perfect last-minute idea."

The strategy would appear to be on target in a time when "home meal replacement" has become an industry mantra and all indicators point to the need for fast home-prepared meals in a two-income environment.


Mr. Lynn said that in its first week of airing the new commercial, Kraft drew 7,000 calls to the phone line.

Kraft also is trying to inject new excitement into the category with flavors: New are Four Cheese, White Cheddar and Herb and Mild Mexican-Style varieties. The three co-brand the Minute rice lines with the Kraft cheese logo.

Mr. Lynn said more new items will come.

Incremental TV advertising, along with magazine ads and free standing inserts in newspapers, will support the new products in June or July.

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