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Although nutraceuticals have long been touted for their potential, most "medical foods" have come from small companies with meager marketing plans.

Then came Cardia Salt Alternative, a heart-healthy salt sold through pharmacies and proven to lower blood pressure.

Cardia, too, comes from a small company-AMBI. The difference: AMBI backed the mid-January rollout with a nationwide PR blitz and a $4 million-to-$5 million radio campaign.

Although Mary Hudson, AMBI's director of sales and marketing, had experience with launching products, Cardia presented a different challenge. Marketing Cardia meant addressing the advertising, packaging and pricing of a consumer product and convincing the medical community as well, Ms. Hudson says.

The radio spots, produced in-house, feature spokesman Larry King, himself a Cardia user after his own battles with heart disease, and the tagline "Salt for your heart's content." Radio spots appear in 15 major markets, with plans for national radio in the third quarter of this year.

PR by InterScience generated 270 million impressions, including mentions in 5,000 radio broadcasts, 100 airings of a video news release and 35 features in major metropolitan dailies, Ms. Hudson says. Direct mail and event marketing for physicians, pharmacists and dietitians also have been crucial, she says.

Sales for the first 10 weeks totaled $1.3 million, but better measures of early success may be reactions from consumers and the trade. Cardia's toll-free number logged 40,000 calls through March. Another 15,000 health professionals have requested information. Chain retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Revco and Walgreen's have signed on, along with wholesalers representing 95% of drug volume.

"I don't know of many medical foods that have been successful coming to market," says Ms. Hudson, 34. "We had to have an aggressive, comprehensive campaign to be sure of taking off."

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