Oscar Mayer Spending Big Behind New Selects Line

No-Preservative Extension Seeks to Bring Back Health-Conscious Consumers

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While some might still wish they were an Oscar Mayer wiener, the iconic Kraft Foods brand recently realized it had some work to do with its full lineup, which includes bacon and lunchmeat.

"The brand itself has always been very strong -- it's known as a category leader," said Tom Bick, Oscar Mayer's director-integrated marketing communications and advertising. "But people look at it sometimes and reminisce about Oscar Mayer when they grew up and have sort of moved on in life." In short, they have changed their eating habits. "It really came down to people trying to avoid the processed foods, the artificial preservatives," Mr. Bick said.

To win those customers back, Oscar Mayer has launched a new line of cold cuts, Oscar Mayer Selects, which will be promoted as having "no artificial preservatives" in a campaign that Kraft said is among the biggest ad efforts in the history of Oscar Mayer, a brand dating to the late 1800s.

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Ads will also promote Oscar Mayer Selects bacon and hot-dog varieties -- New York and Chicago-style -- which follow the Selects hot-dog launch in 2010 that marked the debut of the brand extension.

The campaign, called "It's Yes Food," is by Dentsu's McGarryBowen, Chicago, and includes TV, print and digital, plus a sponsorship of an episode of ABC's "Modern Family" (without product placements). Spots feature a family whose mom says "no" to a lot of things -- including her husband Facebook-friending the babysitter -- but yes to Oscar Mayer Selects.

Regular Oscar Mayer lunchmeat still leads the sliced lunchmeat category with a 20.8% share, but sales grew by just 0.46% in the year ending March 18, to $727.5 million, according to SymphonyIRI, which excludes Walmart data. (Oscar Mayer's "Deli Fresh" lineup, which are shaved meats meant to resemble deli offerings, fared better, growing 12.4%, to $482.9 million. The thicker "Carving Board" lineup has also seen success, with sales more than doubling, to $58.6 million.)

Selects is the only Oscar Mayer lunchmeat brand making the no-preservatives claim, which is emerging as a popular messaging tool for meat marketers. Hormel Foods, for instance, recently expanded its "Natural Choice" lunchmeat lineup to include smoked and chicken sausage. The brand was introduced in 2006 as "the first 100% natural, no-preservatives sandwich-meat brand to be nationally distributed," according to Hormel. The brand's lunchmeat sales grew 18.6% in the year ending March 18, to $65.8 million, according to SymphonyIRI.

Ingredients in Oscar Mayer Selects, including cultured celery juice and vinegar, sound a lot simpler than those in its Deli Fresh meats, whose shaved turkey breast includes potassium chloride, sodium diacetate and sodium nitrate.

Still, one dietician said the new packaged-meat brands are not exactly health food. Selects, for instance, "are still processed meats, and the risk associated with consuming processed meats do not preclude those that use 'no artificial preservative,' " Susan Levin, a dietitian and director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, told Ad Age in an email. On reviewing the nutrition labels, she pointed out that the ham, for instance, includes cultured corn sugar and sodium phosphates. "The abundance of research showing the risk associated with processed meat consumption and colorectal cancer risk readily admits the cause could come from any one or several components of processed meats, including iron or fat content, nitrates/nitrites, smoking, curing, or other preserving methods," she said.

In response, a Kraft spokeswoman said: "Oscar Mayer products are made from wholesome ingredients in accordance with strict government regulations and are safe to eat. We are confident in the safety and quality of our products, which consumers have enjoyed for over 125 years."

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