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Van Melle's Mentos walked away from more than 90% of its U.S. product offerings and still managed to double its business-thanks to advertising and a clever product-placement strategy.

The Netherlands-based candy brand has been available in the U.S. since 1972, but it wasn't until July 1992 that sales started to take off. That's when the chewy roll candy brand consolidated from 50 flavors into just two (mint and mixed fruits) and began advertising with a national network TV campaign.

Sales have skyrocketed to about $40 million today from $20 million in 1991.

Thirty-second spots, airing on Fox, MTV and shows like "Saturday Night Live," show frustrating situations smartly overcome by cool thinking, aided by Mentos. Radio spots also are a major part of the "freshmaker" campaign.

The brand also has made serious inroads in product placement; it's been seen on Comedy Central, MTV and this fall will make an appearance on the popular syndicated show "Baywatch."

"Our whole attack on the American market has been one of focus," says Liam Killeen, marketing director at Van Melle. Instead of spreading its resources thin with multiple brand extensions that often end up cannibalizing sales, Van Melle takes a few core products and gives them healthy advertising support, he adds.

"There are almost 35,000 products in the candy business-maybe only a thousand are distributed at one time," he says. "It ain't rocket science to be focused with those kinds of odds. "

Van Melle also skips short-term promotions because it "compromises the brand strategy," he says. "Short-term volume gains are not what we're about. We want long-term profit growth."

Ad spending will be $11.9 million in 1994, up 34% from the previous year. Pahnke, based in Hamburg, Germany, is the agency for most of the brand's creative worldwide; Media Buying Service, New York, is responsible for U.S. media placement.

Sales also have been aided by increased distribution beyond food stores and drugstores into mass merchandise outlets like Kmart Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores. Mentos' grocery, mass merchandiser and drugstore sales were $17.6 million for the 52-weeks ended June 19, up a whopping 55% from the same period a year ago, according to Information Resources Inc.

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