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Ross Products is warming up for entry into the nutrition bar race with a proven brand name, Ensure.

Officials at Ross didn't return calls regarding the launch slated to be completed by early next year. But executives who have seen trade materials said the company will spend about $7 million in the first quarter of '98 alone on the nutrition bar.

A full program of TV and print is planned as well as a major sampling push in 300 to 400 health clubs in 22 markets slated for February. Total spending is pegged at $20 million for the first year of distribution.


That spending will be incremental to the $24 million in measured media the company shelled out to support Ensure's liquid nutritional supplement last year, upping the ante for Ensure brand advertising to $44 million. Gotham, New York, is the agency for the supplement and the new nutrition bar.

According to Information Resources Inc., weight control/protein supplements are an $847.1 million category in food, drug and mass merchandisers, up 20% over the previous 52 weeks. Ensure is by far the leader among nutrition supplements, with a total of $272.5 million in sales for Ensure, Ensure Plus and Ensure Light. However, Ensure and Ensure Plus saw sales declines of 11.9% and 18.3%, respectively, during that period.


Excluding weight-loss products such as Thompson Medical Co.'s Ultra Slim-Fast and Nestle USA's Sweet Success, Ensure's nearest competitors are Boost, with $45.2 million in sales, and Sustacal, with $50.1 million. Both are from Mead-Johnson Nutritionals.

The nutrition bar appears to be an attempt to extend the Ensure brand name beyond mainstay baby boomers.

The bar category currently has a diverse set of competitors, ranging from high-performance products such as PowerFoods' PowerBar, and V02Max, a product marketed by a sports nutrition unit at Mars Inc.

IRI measures nutrition bars within the $847.9 million granola bar category. PowerBar's supermarket sales were $27.7 million, according to IRI.

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