Heinz, Mars, Sara Lee AWOL from food fest

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[Chicago] Sara Lee Foods, H.J. Heinz Co. and Mars all were no-shows at this year's Food Marketing Institute show, the industry's largest conference. Their usually large booth spaces were filled by smaller first-timers, which made up 300 of the 700 exhibits.

Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin said, "FMI has lost some relevance and importance over the last decade or so since major buyers like Wal-Mart see new products individually in advance of the show. "

FMI spokesman Todd Hultquist acknowledged that "[retailers] don't go to trade shows to buy orders for a year anymore like they used to, now they come to see what's new." As a result, he said, FMI, which took place May 1-3, expanded to include smaller, innovative companies like Chomp Pet Candy, maker of Yip Yap breath fresheners and breath strips for dogs, and Firefighter Brand Products, manufacturer of a line of better-for-you foods and beverages.

To ensure the some 30,000 attendees visited many of the smaller players, FMI steered away from its typical tactic of placing the larger manufacturer booths in the front and instead used them as "anchors" around the floor.


Sara Lee spokeswoman Julie Ketay said the company's absence was a result of putting money and management support toward a new "customer-centric" sales strategy that has enabled sales teams to work more closely with customers individually. Meanwhile, calls placed to H.J. Heinz Co. and Mars were not returned as executives were attending national sales meetings scheduled the week of the show.

Kraft-as usual-commanded the largest exhibit space, and used it to tout many launches, central among them its Tassimo beverage system and its lineup of South Beach Diet products. But while some products were unveiled for the first time at the show, like chocolate-covered Nutter Butters and Jell-O Dirt Cup kits (pudding kits with cookie crumbs and Trolli Squiggles gummy candy), retailers had already heard about most of them.

Trends on the floor, meanwhile, reveal that food marketers are still trying to cover all their bases. While many showcased healthful offerings with new labeling to make it easy for consumers to find food that fits in with their dietary concerns, a fair number of purely indulgent products were showcased. The same bipolar approach can be found in kid-targeted snacks, with fresh fruit and cookies both packaged in convenient car-cup-holder packaging (see chart, right).

While 85% of trade-show visitors come to see new items and technology, the free food is clearly also a lure. Kraft last year gave away 15,000 samples of DiGiorno Pizza and 7,416 Oscar Mayer Hot Dogs.

Coming to a store near you

For those not watching their weight...

Despite the health push, the larger percentage of most marketers' sales come from more indulgent offerings.

* Kraft: Chocolate-covered Nutter Butters and Double Stuf Oreo Peanut Butter Creme.

* Hershey's: Milk-chocolate-dipped cookie versions of Hershey's, Reese's, Almond Joy and York.

* Unilever: Brownie-mud-pie ice cream. "Full-fat is still the largest part of the market," a Unilever sales executive said.

Pop-able and portable snacks...

* Campbell Soup Co.'s Pepperidge Farm: In June will launch bite-size cookies in packages that fit in a car cup holder called Whims.

* Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream: This month launches its no-prep Dibs Ice Cream Bites in five flavors.

* Kellogg Co.: Keebler Gripz feature "mighty tiny" morsels of its Chips Deluxe and Cheez-It snacks in single-serve packages.

Something for every diet...

Several food marketers introduced banners that call out specific health claims.

* Unilever's Breyers: Developed a "Smart" banner under which it will market its no-sugar-added, low-fat and low-calorie ice cream lines.

* Kellogg Co.: Designated 20 of its cereals "Healthy Beginnings" and classified them under heart health, pregnancy, fiber, weight management and well-being and energy.

* General Mills: Expanded "Healthy Heart" banner it created last year for Yoplait yogurt to Nature Valley granola bars.

Concern for kids' health...

Childhood-obesity fears have driven a rash of kid-specific products.

* Sunkist Growers: Launching single-serve Sunkist Fun Fruits this fall with names like Smiles for orange wedges and Giggles for grapes.

* Del Monte: Packaging fresh-cut-fruit in packages intended for car cup holders.

* Cadbury Schweppes: Fortified its no-sugar-added Mott's apple juice with vitamins A, C and calcium.

* Kellogg Co.'s Kashi Co.: Touts Kashi Mighty Bites to pediatricians through a partnership with Dr. William Sears.

* Kraft Foods: New KidSense Fun Pack, all under 100 calories, include Teddy Grahams Cubs and Smilin' Ritz Bits.

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