Food Marketing Institute Show: Marketers try 'fast' food

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With supermarkets and food marketers facing a storm of economic woes and unable to raise prices, this year's Food Marketing Institute Show showcased a variety of new products and marketing strategies that cater to consumers' ongoing quest for convenience and health.

On the convenience front, marketers unveiled a variety of on-the-go forms of existing products. Nestle USA, for example, will introduce Toll House brand cookie- and brownie-based candy bars this September backed by $22 million in advertising spending overall for Toll House-a significant portion of that dedicated to the new candy bars beginning in January 2004. Nestle will also launch PowerBar Energy Bites backed by advertising that touts the new form as "energy on demand."

Kraft Foods will extend its quick-time offerings with Jell-O Pudding Bites and easy-pouch dishes dubbed Minute Rice & Seasonings. Campbell Soup Co., too, is jumping on the bandwagon, with the rollout this July of Pepperidge Farm Mini Cookies, which it will support with a TV and print campaign, as well the launch in June of a line of quick-and-easy cooking sauces under the Pace Mexican Creations name. The Pace brand will get roughly double the $13 million in media it received last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Convenience is also driving Campbell's 21 new varieties of its ready-to-serve soups in microwaveable bowls. The company is testing an ad campaign in Columbus, Ohio, called "Tasty Tuesday" with Food Network chef Gordon Elliott visiting consumers homes to prepare easy Tuesday-night recipes featuring Campbell soups. ConAgra Foods will try to capitalize on the success of Homestyle Bakes convenient meals in June with Dessert Bakes, which will be supported with print ads from October to February. ConAgra will also introduce shelf-stable pouch meals under the Banquet Meal Toppers name.

To appease increasingly health-conscious consumers, ConAgra will roll out an ethnic line of Healthy Choice varieties, Flavor Adventures, which Healthy Choice marketing manager Ron Stoupa called the "largest launch in Healthy Choice history." Mr. Stoupa said the extension would command more than the nearly $20 million in media spent on its Mixed Grills entry last year. A slew of brands, among them PepsiCo's Sobe and Nestle's Nips, will introduce sugar-free versions, and still others-including Campbell's Tomato Juice and McCormick & Co.'s Seasonings-will get reductions in salt content. Masterfoods U.S.A. will try to compete in the more wholesome segment of the growing granola bar category in January with Kudos Fruit & Nut bars, which, according to sales materials, will get more than $16 million in marketing support.

Hershey Foods will for the first time play up in public relations efforts the nutritional benefits of chocolate when it launches its Rich Dark Kisses-the first permanent line extension for the brand in 10 years-in July backed by roughly $10 million in advertising.

new targets

The profit-pressed retail environment also has marketers reaching out more directly to new higher-spending targets including kids and Hispanics. Wells Dairy hopes to drive national distribution for its Blue Bunny ice cream with the launch this summer of Disney-licensed ice cream, frozen novelties and dairy yogurt products. Coca-Cola Co.'s Minute Maid brand's rollout of Limeade-Limonada is one example of the many Hispanic-targeted products entering the market.

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