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Campbell Soup Co. has decided to pick up the Pace.

"When Pace was on the market, I seized the opportunity," says Al Poe, president of Campbell's Meal Enhancement Group. The company last year acquired Pace Foods for $1.2 billion, its largest acquisition ever.

"Salsa is still growing and in line with ethnic trends, with minimal calorie penalties and no fat," says Mr. Poe, 46, who sees category growth going into the double digits.

Mr. Poe, who has been with Campbell for four years, spent the same amount of time at Mars Inc.'s dog food division, which he says seemed inevitable. "With a name like Al Poe, you know I'd end up at Kal Kan."

Mr. Poe is focusing on increasing Pace's penetration and frequency of usage. The product still misses strong distribution in 20% of the country, particularly the Northeast.

"We know the biggest challenge is trial through sampling," he says.

One method he's using is branding partnerships that create new salsa combinations, such as a Kraft shell pasta and salsa kit, rolled out last fall, and a con queso featuring Kraft Velveeta and Pace, coming this fall.

Temerlin McClain, Dallas, handled promotion under Pace and continues to do so under Campbell, which intends to sustain its spending levels-$22.4 million in 1994, according to Competitive Media Reports.

Campbell wasn't the only one thrilled when Mr. Poe spiced up his product portfolio with salsa: "My daughter thought I introduced her to a great diet food-she scarfs this stuff down."

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