Jell-O taken to 'X-tremes'

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Jell-O is Utah's official state snack, the basis of women's magazine recipes from Avocado Strawberry Ring to Cherry Coke Salad and it has even gone into space. But despite its near-cult status and long-time billing as "America's Most Famous Dessert," sales for the nearly 105-year-old Kraft Foods brand gelatin have slipped considerably. To get beyond its nostalgic image, Jell-O needs to become truly cool with today's kids.

Kraft saw double-digit declines for its base Jell-O gelatin dessert mixes and its Jell-O refrigerated gelatin snacks over the past year, due in part to increased competition from branded and private label marketers. To fight back, Kraft in February will stray from its typical mom-targeted tack to introduce a new line of X-treme Jell-O Gel Sticks and Gel Cups directly to kids.

Ever since the brand was first advertised in 1902 in Ladies' Home Journal, it has been marketed primarily to moms as a convenient dessert for the family. Although kids have been a staple in Jell-O advertising since the debut of the Jell-O Girl in 1903, who made the point that "you can't be a kid without it," mom has been the target for the message. Even 27-year Jell-O spokesman Bill Cosby began his tenure by beseeching moms, not kids, to buy Jell-O Pudding with the message "Kids love pudding." (His prowess on pudding was such that Mr. Cosby was brought on in 1987 to turn around lackluster sales for gelatin, too.)

Now, though, at a time when kids' purchasing power is higher than ever, and the nag factor has become a critical driver of new product success for children's food products, Kraft hopes its "cool" new packaging, flavors and advertising will give kids something to beg for.

"X-treme Jell-O gelatin is a logical next step for us-particularly at a time when kids are so interested in dialed-up tastes, flavors and colors," said Kevin McGahren-Clemmens, category business director, Jell-O. H.J. Heinz Co. has recently had great success building its Heinz ketchup brand among kids with the introduction of E-Z Squirt, green and purple ketchup packaged in kid-friendly squeeze bottles, and General Mills sparked a packaging revolution with its hit, Yoplait Go-Gurt.

The X-treme Gel Sticks play on the popularity of Go-Gurt and its followers by offering a push-up version of ready-to-eat Jell-O in a variety of flavors, among them green apple and watermelon. The flavors, also available in cup version, go directly against the ready-to-eat Jolly Rancher Gel Snacks that ConAgra Grocery Products Co. introduced last October. With the backing of the popular Hershey Foods' candy brand, those snacks have grown to $28 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 7, according to Information Resources, Inc.

While the refrigerated pudding and gelatin segment grew 5% during that period, Jell-O's gelatin snacks fell 12.1% to $86 million and other Jell-O entries in the category-among them pudding snacks-dropped 3% to $144 million. Private-label entries in the refrigerated segment, meanwhile, grew 37% to $25 million, per IRI.

Marketing support for the X-treme products will launch in Spring 2002 and will include TV spots on kid-targeted network and cable stations from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, New York, that tout the extreme nature of the line to cool-seeking kids. In September 2000, Kraft moved the Jell-O brand from its agency of record since 1926, Y&R Advertising, New York, without a review to FCB. At the time, Dave Johnson, now group VP-president of beverages, desserts and cereals, Kraft Foods, said the reason for the switch was to "explore a new strategic and creative direction for the brand."

Kraft declined to provide further details surrounding the launch of the new products. The company spent $56 million in measured media overall on the Jell-O brand in 2000, $14 million of that on gelatin, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Kraft executives hope the "x-treme" makeover for Jell-O-perhaps the only dessert to have its own museum, located in its birthplace, LeRoy, New York-will mean this icon can avoid becoming a relic.

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