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Baby food and formula promotions boomed last year as key marketers gave birth to new promotional tactics.

Spending for the overall category more than doubled, increasing 110% to $61 million in 1993, according to a survey conducted for Advertising Age by Promotion Information Management, Chicago.

PIM measures promotions in major product categories on a continual basis by independently monitoring manufacturer coupons offered in newspapers, consumer magazines and direct mail.

Category leader Gerber Products Co. spurred most of the heightened activity, increasing its 1993 promotional budget 80% to $36.9 million. Also contributing to the surge was Abbott Laboratories' Ross Products Division, which initiated couponing for PediaSure, its nutritional supplement introduced in '92.

Gerber increased promotional spending across the board, but in particular it successfully tested a new promotional vehicle last October called the "Gerber Little Baby Book." A mailing of 300,000 went to households with infants up to 3 months old. The book contained coupons and advertising for various Gerber infant products, Eastman Kodak Co., Duracell and others, along with editorial content to help new parents.

It was created jointly by Gerber and direct mail company Advo, Windsor, Conn.

The coupon book rolled national last April and will be distributed quarterly with separate versions for families with older infants and toddlers.

Gerber also heavied up direct mail and newspaper free standing insert spending for Gerber Graduates, a line of toddler foods for children 1 to 3 years old that was introduced in 1992, as well as for its core baby food line, said Ty Hicks, promotions manager. Gerber claims a 70% share of the $746.9 million baby food segment.

Last year, Gerber Graduates' sales rose 41.1% to $47 million, claiming 6.3% of the total baby food market, according to Information Resources Inc.

Ralston Purina Co.'s Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., with 14.7% of the overall market, dramatically cut promotional spending from $5 million in 1992 to slightly more than $500,000 due to marketing cutbacks.

H.J. Heinz Co., with a 10.8% share, along with smaller players Earth's Best and Growing Health, spent a combined total of less than $1.87 million on promotional spending last year.

Despite its promotional cutbacks, late last year Beech-Nut offered $1 rebates on baby food products, up to $10, for every Gerber coupon mailed by May 31, 1994, to combat Gerber's promotional onslaught.

Ross' PediaSure, a liquid nutritional supplement for children between 1 and 10 years old, spent almost $17 million on coupons. Most coupons were included in print ads and newspaper supplements. Bloom/Publicis, Dallas, handles advertising and promotions.

Sales of PediaSure, introduced in 1992, almost tripled from $3.8 million to $10.6 million.

Baby formula marketer Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories stepped up promotions for its S.M.A. and Nursoy brands, spending $2.6 million in '93. Wyeth-Ayerst holds 10.6% of the $2.7 billion baby formula segment.

Segment leaders are Ross Laboratories with 54.1% and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Mead Johnson Nutritional Group with 25.3%.

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