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It seems something does beat a great pair of L'eggs-socks.

The current trend in casual dressing has caused sales of sheer hosiery to stagnate, while sales of casual legwear are booming. Seen by many as a permanent shift, it represents a major headache for L'eggs, the dominant brand in the shrinking sheer hosiery category.

Acknowledging it must meet the changing demands of U.S. women, L'eggs has altered its product lineup to include more tights and socks. But the Sara Lee Hosiery division's drastic cut in ad spending last year, coupled with an earlier change in packaging that eliminated the plastic egg and made the brand name somewhat irrelevant, leave it in a delicate situation.

"The pantyhose market is really bad now. ... The more-casual workplace makes for slower growth," says Leslie Singer, corporate communications manager for NPD Group.

Sales in the sheer hosiery/tights segment of the hosiery category for the first half of 1994 totaled $1.6 billion, a 0.9% increase over the same period in 1993. In the sock segment, sales were up 11% to $436 million, according to NPD. Of the sheer hosiery/tights segment, pantyhose sales were down 1%.

L'eggs' total unit share of sheer hosiery for the 12-month period ended June 1994 for food, drugstore and mass merchandisers was 48.7%.

L'eggs thinks it can convince women to move back to sheer hosiery. The key, says John Ceneviva, L'eggs VP-marketing, "is making the category important and newsworthy through new products, breakthrough advertising and interesting PR. [That will] revitalize a category and contemporize a brand."

Advertising was not top-of-mind with L'eggs last year, however. The brand's ad spending totaled $28.9 million in 1992, then fell significantly to $6.7 million in 1993. In the first six months of 1994, ad spending totaled $2.55 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Mr. Ceneviva says ad spending will receive a significant boost. L'eggs also is preparing a big sheer-hosiery product launch for March that will mark a shift in the brand's marketing mix.

"We ... need to spend less against driving promotion," says Mr. Ceneviva. "TV and print advertising [from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York] are becoming the cornerstone of the brand marketing efforts going forward."

That's at least a hopeful sign.

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