Nestle, Hershey figure sticks will be big sellers

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In an effort to woo back women who want to look like sticks, Nestle and Hershey are both preparing launches of portion-control candy products dubbed respectively-if not imaginatively-Stixx and Sticks.

Nodding to dual trends of weight-consciousness and indulgence, the two sticks will duel with comparatively heavyweight marketing budgets. Nestle will launch its individually wrapped 90-calorie cream-filled wafers sprinkled with bits of Butterfinger, Dark Crunch or Crunch and covered in Nestle chocolate in December backed by an estimated $15 million marketing push. Hershey in March will launch its single-wrapped 60-calorie Sticks in Rich Dark, Mint, Milk Chocolate and Caramel Milk Chocolate with a similar media and marketing outlay.

"Better-for-you eating is becoming a more consistent lifestyle choice for more people and rather than face the headwinds, many companies are trying to offer products that show how you can responsibly fit some indulgence into a weight-management program," offered one food industry analyst.

Kraft Foods has built a $100 million-plus business with its 100 Calorie Packs-portion-control versions of indulgent snacks including Oreos and Cheese Nips-and Nestle and Hershey are among the other food marketers who are trying to develop similar products to sidestep critics and slip back into more health-conscious consumers' lives, not to mention drive higher profit margins.

"People are in no way ready to give up taste for wellness, especially when it comes to candy, so portion control is the way to go," said Vilay Matuska, marketing manager for innovation at Nestle. Stixx, which features six individually wrapped rolls in a box ("one for each day plus two on Friday" Ms. Matuska suggests) features an aerated cream intended to make it far lighter than a traditional candy bar and draw in new, infrequent and lapsed candy users.

But couldn't the two companies have found two different monikers? Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor, New York, said that Nestle's and Hershey's use of the same name-albeit spelled differently-is "an unfortunate coincidence" that can happen easily when two companies are doing consumer research on a similar product. He offered that the snafu could actually help define the category of portion-controlled chocolates, but could also "lessen the distinctiveness, differentiation and newness of each of the brands and potentially create confusion."

Stixx vs. Sticks

In an attempt to differentiate its sticks, TV and print ads for Nestle's Stixx will break mid-March from JWT, Chicago, and tout the treat as "A little Stixx for a little lift."

Although a Hershey spokeswoman said that the company is still deciding on how exactly it will position its Sticks, ads for which don't break until next spring from new Hershey roster shop Arnold, New York (see story at left), Hershey is expected to more directly tout Sticks' 60 calories, with prominent calorie flags on package fronts and a focus on them in advertising.

The shift to lower-calorie products to cater to the weight-conscious set follows a slew of efforts in the sugar-free and low-carb arenas. But industry observers note that product innovation is now focusing on the far more enduring and less fad-driven weight-loss strategy of fewer calories in, more calories out.

Health concerns also have chocolate marketers racing to tout the antioxidant flavanols contained in cocoa, which studies have shown have a link with heart health. Mars in October will roll national with a full line of Cocoavia products, a patented blend of heart-healthy cocoa flavanols and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols from soy that made their debut through granola-based snack bars exclusively on the Internet two years ago. The line will now include the original snack bars as well as chocolate bars and chocolate-covered almonds.

Hershey responded to Mars' Cocoavia launch news with the news that it will begin using new labels for its Hershey's Cocoa that tout it as a natural source of flavanol antioxidants and will also debut a seal on select dark chocolate products listing the percent of ingredients in the product derived from the cocoa bean.

Hershey is the clear leader in the chocolate candy segment, with sales up 3.5% to $1.9 billion versus Mars' Masterfoods division's sales declines of 1% to $1 billion and Nestle's 0.5% rise to $368 million according to Information Resources data for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 4 in food, drug and mass outlets excluding Wal-Mart.

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