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Say cheez. That's the strategy Dave Karpick, then senior brand manager at Keebler Foods Co., used to drive a double-digit growth rate in the company's 75-year-old Cheez-It brand.

"It was a product consumers who knew of it loved," he says. "But nobody else knew of it. It was underleveraged for many years."

So Mr. Karpick, 38, set about trying to advertise and contemporize it. He and his team started with the packaging, which "looked like it hadn't changed since the '50s."

The next element was promotion-including a "Two-Handed Jam" basketball effort and a mountain bike giveaway-since expanded this year to include sponsorship of a Cheez-It branded Nascar racer.

Keebler turned the tap on the brand's first-ever national advertising and "cranked up the new product pipeline," says Mr. Karpick.

The advertising, from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, had nary an elf in sight. Instead, the spot showed a woman leaning out her window next to a box of Cheez-It on the sill. A suitor throws pebbles up to the window but it turns out he's courting the cracker.

The new products included a Cheez-It Snack Mix and for the kids, Cheez-It Heads & Tails, a product that encourages mixing and matching of animal-shaped cracker pieces. Following up on that success, the company this year launched a Tabasco-flavored variety and a thinner, crispier line extension called Chip-It.

Cheez-It dollar sales climbed 16% for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 3 in food stores, according to Information Resources Inc. And the snack mix garnered $33.8 million in additional sales, giving Cheez-It a 2.5% share of what IRI calls the "other salted snack category" in food drug and mass merchandisers during that period.

Good news indeed at the Hollow Tree, where Mr. Karpick was promoted to his

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