Popeye aims for strong comeback as grocery brand

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Hearst Corp.'s King Features Syndicate plans to reintroduce Popeye the Sailor Man to the American public, and its first step is to reach out to them through their breadboxes.

Leading up to the 75th anniversary of the ornery, spinach-eating cartoon character in 2004, King Features is targeting roughly 20,000 supermarkets with the idea of carrying a Popeye-branded line of rolls and breads that it promises to support heavily with ads in a host of Hearst-owned media outlets.

King has licensed the family of Popeye characters to Animated Foods, which in turn is pitching supermarket chains including Kroger Co., Pathmark Stores and others on iron- and calcium-fortified Popeye White Bread as well as Wimpy Hamburger Rolls, Swee'pea Wheat Bread and Olive Oyl Hot Dog Rolls. The licensing agreement calls for retailers to pay a 12.5 cents fee per bag for the Popeye packaging, which will enclose breads retailers agree to manufacture in-house or in conjunction with a local vendor.

"The last time we did something big with Popeye was 1980 with [the movie]...so even though there's great awareness of the character, we need to re-emphasize him," said T.R. "Rocky" Shepard, president of King Features.

The bread effort is just one of many initiatives to do that, he said, including new merchandising, new advertising and new entertainment vehicles.

King "is trying to build Popeye as a brand, and bread has the highest household penetration of any product in the store, with most people using multiple loaves per week," said one Midwest retail executive. The executive said his large supermarket chain is "in the process of working on a licensing agreement" for the Popeye products because of the level of marketing expected against the line, which he said could lend "excitement and news" to the somewhat stale bread category.

more revenue

In addition to generating millions of impressions for Popeye in kitchens across America, the bread-licensing deal also provides King with a revenue source to fund its proposed large-scale anniversary campaign for the cartoon, which will likely include a series of one-hour specials on NBC. Schramm Sports & Entertainment, New York, is handling the effort.

According to an executive close to the situation, money generated from the sale of the Popeye packaging and promotional concept will be allocated to marketing efforts including in-store displays featuring Popeye tattoos as well as national advertising in Hearst outlets, which include Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as cable networks A&E and Lifetime.

Popeye already appears in grocery stores as a brand of fresh spinach-a licensing agreement that River Ranch Fresh Foods has just re-signed for a 20-year-period with plans to extend to other fresh produce-and as a brand of canned spinach marketed by Allen Canning Co. But building an entertainment property at grocery these days is no sure thing, as anemic sales of Disney-themed brands surely show (AA, Aug. 5).

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