Media consolidation: Masterfoods starts scrap for $300M account

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Mars' Masterfoods USA has embarked on one of the biggest reviews of the year as it looks to consolidate its $300 million media buying and planning business into just one of its many roster shops.

A spokeswoman for Masterfoods USA said the review is beginning immediately and is expected to conclude by mid-December. "We are looking for a single agency for media buying and planning responsibilities for all of our businesses, including snacks, food and pet care," she said. "Our goal is to increase the effectiveness of our media investment."

Masterfoods spent $324 million in 2002 on measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Its key brands include Snickers, M&Ms, Twix and Starburst candies, Pedigree and Whiskas pet food and Uncle Ben's rice and prepared meals.

According to executives with knowledge of the review, the following roster shops are participating: Omnicom Group's OMD, Grey Global Group's MediaCom, Publicis Groupe's MediaVest and WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, which will likely pitch the business through its parent, Group M.

For such a large marketer, Mars has, until now, employed a surprisingly splintered media agency structure. Mediaedge:cia is the agency of record for Masterfoods' print-buying business. MediaCom handles all of the marketer's U.S. out-of-home media. MediaVest, which is part of the Starcom MediaVest Group, handles all of Masterfoods' broadcast buying business. Publicis' Zenith Optimedia handles Masterfoods' sports buying, which is part of the review, though executives with knowledge of the review said that the shop would not be pitching for the business. OMD does media planning for confections, Uncle Ben's, Whiskas and Seeds of Change.

Executives at Group M, MediaVest and MediaCom referred calls to Masterfoods. Calls to OMD and Zenith were not returned at press time.

Closely held Mars has been under growing pressure from such bigger rivals as Nestle, General Mills and Procter & Gamble Co. in recent years in some of its key categories in the U.S.

In pet food, for instance, both Nestle and P&G entered through acquisitions of Ralston-Purina and Iams Co. within the past four years. P&G's Iams has gained share consistently on rivals in pet food since expanding the brand from specialty to supermarket and mass channels three years ago.

chipping away

While Masterfoods forged a new segment with its Uncle Ben's rice bowls in recent years, such rivals as General Mills chipped away at its lead with their own similar products.

Though it's perhaps best known as a candy maker with humorous TV ads for such brands as M&M's and Snickers, Masterfoods also has a reputation, said executives close to the company, for a willingness to experiment in new media and for an interest in nutra-ceuticals and wellness foods.

The company last year hired Doug Milne, former director of P&G's SmartWorks interactive and consumer-direct unit, to work on its M&M's brand. And last month it began testing CocoaVia, a heart-healthy chocolate brand, using a consumer-direct approach similar to Kraft Foods' Gevalia gourmet coffee service, but with a view to an eventual retail rollout.

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