Presto! Classico spreads pesto beyond consumers' pasta bowls

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Variety is the lifeblood of Borden Foods' Classico, enabling the premium pasta sauce player to maintain nearly double-digit growth amid an otherwise flat category.

That flavor innovation continues with the January launch of new Classico Creations Sauce & Spreads, a line that extends the Classico name beyond the pasta bowl.

"We've been more aggressive with new product introductions in the last year, with three new alfredo sauces, an Italian sausage variety, sweet basil marinara and now Classico Creations, all of which have helped drive our business up 15% this year," said Jay Wright, VP-general manager of flavors and meals at Borden.

The new Classico Creations, in sun-dried tomato and basil pesto varieties, is a more concentrated sauce that requires only two tablespoons per meal and therefore comes in 10 oz. jars (red sauces are normally packaged in 26 ounce jars; white in 17 ounce jars). The line is made in the "fresh-chopped ingredients style of pesto," a traditional restaurant sauce that grew 17% in retail sales over the last year, according to Tammy Smalls, director of marketing for sauce brands at Borden.


"The crux of the Classico line is that it's jarred pasta sauce in unique, innovative flavors, and people who eat [Classico] are adventurous and like to try new flavors they've had at restaurants," Ms. Smalls said.

Unlike Classico's other varieties, marketed primarily as pasta toppers, the new Classico Creations are expected to extend usage beyond pasta as a spread for breads, meat, fish and chicken and in cold pastas and vinaigrettes, among others. Such incremental usage, which doesn't cannibalize existing pasta sauces, is appealing to retailers looking for ways to draw consumers back to the grocery store and away from increasingly popular restaurant alternatives, Mr. Wright said.

TV advertising to support Classico Creations, from Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, likely will hit by late February. Newspaper inserts and minibrochures attached to the jars themselves will offer coupons and recipe ideas, and sampling in groceries and club stores and directly to homes will also support the launch.

Although creative is still in development, Mr. Wright said new ads for 2001 -- including a TV spot in January for a new sun-dried tomato alfredo variety and the new Classico Creations work -- are expected to carry the existing Classico tagline, "Made-from-scratch taste makes it Classico." Borden spent $5 million in measured media on its sauces in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


Classico has a 41% share of the premium pasta sauce segment, which represents roughly 30% of the overall $1.5 billion pasta sauce category, Ms. Smalls said. That share has grown 2% over the last year, she said.

According to Information Resources Inc., No. 3 Classico's dollar sales grew 9% to $152 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 10. Leader Lipton's Ragu, meanwhile, grew only 1.3% to $570 million, while No. 2 Campbell Soup Co.'s Prego sales were up 2.2% to $306 million. Lipton's Five Brothers, meanwhile, fell 4.9% to $96 million.

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