Ritz hits with pop-in-mouth Mini crackers

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Nabisco Biscuit Co. is gearing up for a Ritz blitz.

In an effort to extend the leading cracker brand beyond its current $460 million in sales, Nabisco is readying a variety of new product introductions, the first among them a new line of Mini Ritz supported with an estimated $10 million in advertising beginning in January.

"You will be seeing more new products under the Ritz name in the future because it's a terrific equity and it has lots of room to grow," said Katrina Yolen, brand manager of Ritz new products.

The new Mini Ritz line, which appears in stores nationally this week, is a relaunch of the Ritz Bits crackers Nabisco first introduced in 1988. That line quickly became linked in consumers' minds with the successful kid-targeted Ritz Bits Sandwich crackers introduced in 1990, toward which Nabisco put the bulk of its Ritz Bits support. With a new name and first-ever flavored varieties, though, new Mini Ritz is intended to stand on its own as an easy hand-to-mouth snack for the whole family.

"When you say `Ritz Bits,' people think of it as a kiddie brand, but we felt there was a great opportunity for Ritz to play in the fast-growing hand-to-mouth and bite-sized snacking arena and also to the flavored crackers trend," Ms. Yolen said.

The launch campaign for Mini Ritz, from J. Walter Thompson, Chicago, kicks off in mid-January with a series of fast-paced 15- and 30-second TV spots, dubbed "Juggling," that feature animated versions of regular-sized Ritz, introducing the bite-sized butter crackers in original, cheddar and sour cream & onion varieties. Unlike the regular varieties, the new Mini Ritz are intended to be consumed as pop-in-your-mouth snacks vs. traditional Ritz usage as soup crackers or as a base for toppings.

The tagline for the spots supports the easy-to-pop nature of the new line by averring, "Fill your Mitz with Mini Ritz."

Print ads, which break in February issues of women's service magazines including Rosie's McCall's and Better Homes & Gardens, feature a Mini Ritz breaking out of a regular-sized Ritz above copy that reads, "New Mini Ritz. Just hatched." The ads use the same "Fill your Mitz" tagline as the TV and feature the same red background as the icon campaign for Ritz, "Nothing Fitz like a Ritz."

Additional support includes newspaper inserts around the holidays and Super Bowl time periods, and cross-promotions on packages of regular-sized Ritz.

The new Mini Ritz, which follows successful introductions of Mini Oreos and Mini Chips Ahoy! earlier this year, is the first new product introduction for the Ritz brand since 1995 and, seemingly, the first of many that will extend the growing franchise.

The base Ritz brand led the $3.6 billion cracker category with sales growth of 5.7% to $352 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 8, according to Information Resources Inc. Nearest competitors include Keebler Foods Co.'s Sunshine Cheez-It crackers, with sales up 0.7% to $272 million, and Campbell Soup Co.'s Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, sales for which grew 7.2% to $248 million. Ritz Bits grew 11.4% to $107 million for the same time period.

Nabisco spent $18.7 million in measured media on Ritz in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting, spread among Ritz Air Crisps, Ritz Bits Sandwiches and base Ritz crackers.

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