Marketers feed into needs with female-targeted lines

By Published on .

The women's movement is spilling into the grocery aisle. From Mead Johnson Nutritionals, General Mills and Quaker Oats Co. to Clif Bar, marketers are tapping into the power of women with special formulations offering them everything from renewed energy to ways to prevent neural tube defects in their offspring.

"Women make up over half the population, they buy more, they're growing more robust in terms of discretionary income and they live longer," said Ken Harris, partner at Cannondale Associates. Based on those demographics, food marketers have determined it's more important than ever to accommodate their particular needs, he said.


Mead Johnson decided five years ago to create a women's health team based on conversations among its female senior executives about the exhaustion women felt -- and the insight that offering them the key nutrients missing in their diets could help. Based on findings such as that 75% of women don't get as much calcium as they should, the team and its outside health professional counterparts came up with the idea of developing a brand called Viactiv designed especially to meet those nutritional needs. Viactiv was kicked off in late 1998 with a line of Calcium Soft Chews and was expanded in January to include two lines of energy bars, fruit smoothies and spritzers.

Viactive sales for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 10 were $49 million, with Calcium Soft Chews accounting for $40 million of the total. Energy bars accounted for another $6 million while smoothies and spritzers rang up $3 million, acording to Information Resources Inc.

"Women have unique physical needs for things like calcium, B vitamins, folic acid, zinc and vitamin E, and we try to educate women on what they should be getting and tell them how much of it can be delivered through Viactiv," said Nicky Tesh, brand director. But, equally important, she said, is that "Viactiv delivers on what women want most, which is taste, and that it fit into women's lifestyles easily by being portable."


Viactiv has its own Web site ( and has partnered with, the Women's Network, to offer information that supports the brand positioning that Viactiv offers the "Energy to appreciate it all." The Internet effort, along with TV and print ads from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, accompanied by materials and samples Mead Johnson supplies to healthcare professionals, all work toward reaching Viactiv's "nutritionally aware" target, Ms. Tesh said.

Following Viactiv's lead, cereal marketers General Mills and Quaker almost simultaneously launched specifically female-targeted products of their own. Big G introduced Harmony in August into 25% of the country while Quaker rolled its Quaker Oatmeal Nutrition for Women a month later to 27% of the country. General Mills expects to bring Harmony national Jan. 2 and Quaker also expects to expand its women-targeted line nationally next year.


Harmony is advertised as "Made just for a woman's body" in ads from DDB Worldwide, Chicago. TV spots show a woman going about her life with copy such as "If your body is your temple, think of this [Harmony] as its caretaker." Quaker's Nutrition for Women line, handled by FCB Worldwide, Chicago, uses the theme "You deserve your own oatmeal," among other similar lines.

"There is so much focus now on women's health issues, the resurgence of calcium, soy protein -- so many specific nutrients that are getting a lot of press right now, and we're trying to capitalize on that," said Kara Rocheleau, assistant marketing manager at General Mills. "Big G has seen, not just for our cereals but across the category, that a lot of new [cereal] introductions haven't done well, and this is a way to break out and be different."

Quaker had the same idea. While oatmeal itself has been proven to lower blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease -- the No. 1 killer of women -- the cereal marketer decided to further fortify its signature product with women-specific nutrients including calcium and folic acid. "The response from women that their special health and nutritional needs are being recognized is very positive, especially as it's tied to great taste and convenience," said Cathy Kapica, a senior scientist at Quaker charged with translating the growing body of scientific information to the company's marketing executives.


The number of products targeted by gender is also likely to rise along with the flood of scientific research about the effects of certain nutrients on a man's or woman's body, suggested Scott Van Winkle, an analyst at investment bank Adams, Harkness & Hill. "The recommended daily allowances that now exist will be differentiated between men and women in the next five years, and with that we'll likely see a lot more differentiation between men and women's products," he said.

The government already has begun to develop dietary guidelines along gender lines. In the last couple of years, the FDA has required that all grain-based products such as ready-to-eat cereals and breads be fortified with folic acid because of the nutrient's role in preventing neural tube defects in infants when consumed by women in the first few months of pregnancy.

Increased awareness, especially by female consumers, about government recommendations of such nutrients as folic acid and soy protein or about nutrition in general, is driving the rash of products geared toward women's health. And, in the end, that awareness might be the products' savior.

Lynn Dornblaser, editorial director of New Product News, said there was an earlier wave of women-oriented foods, such as calcium-fortified lines, in the 1980s. "One of the reasons these products may be successful now while those we saw a decade ago were not is an issue of critical mass. Enough companies have introduced products and enough consumer press touts the benefits of these ingredients so the products [might] make it."

While nutrition is getting increased play in the news, a downside of the cacophony of claims is that marketers need to help women make sense of what often seems to be conflicting scientific evidence. To do so, food marketers have been trying to educate consumers and offer more than just product information in their marketing materials.


To tout its Luna Bar nutrition bar for women on its Web site, for example, Clif Bar has developed a Luna Nutrition Lounge that offers women nutritional advice on varying topics from a registered dietitian. This month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the site features "Breast Health Basics" including the need to maintain fiber and soy in one's meal plan. Wong Doody, West Hollywood, Calif. is Luna's agency.

Since providing such key nutrients allows marketers to charge premium prices for their new women-targeted lines, more companies are likely to follow in the footsteps of these trailblazers. After all, as L'Oreal has proven, women subscribe to the theory that "I'm worth it." And if that's true for their hair, it's more than likely true for their health.

Most Popular
In this article: