Snacks take flight

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The sky has become a new testing ground for package-food marketers.

With food service at airlines greatly diminished in the post-9/11 era, carriers are forging cost-saving deals with snack marketers, pitching them on the sampling and advertising possibilities their captive audience affords. The added incentive of test marketing is luring more food marketers, who have for years pushed to get their brands on flights as a means to make them ubiquitous.

Kraft Foods, for example, recently struck a deal with Southwest Airlines to offer a rotating array of Nabisco snacks on longer flights. The deal is "a cross-promotional opportunity to sample newer products," a spokeswoman said.

Southwest's senior manager of purchasing Jayme Ritchie acknowledged that the airline hadn't "focused that much on the food we were serving." But earlier this year the carrier realized it could develop partnerships with food marketers to enhance perception of the airline without adding to the cost of flights.

In December, Kraft will sample its new Mint Oreo on Southwest flights. Kraft will rotate its Snack Pack and other offerings every six months, and will develop promotions with "preferred partner" Coca-Cola Co. in-flight or in-store that help drive people to Southwest's Web site.

Hain Celestial, which has relatively low household penetration for its upscale Terra brand, has landed its products on airlines including JetBlue, Horizon Air, American Airlines and now British Midland.

When JetBlue decided to switch from its signature Terra Blues chip to a lower-cost chip to reduce costs after Sept. 11, passengers "complained loudly," according to an airline spokeswoman. As a result, JetBlue offered to run ads for the chips on its DirecTV screens in exchange for a better price from Terra.

Air Canada cut down on meals to reduce expenses. But Roberto Solarino, manager of bar and beverages said, "We didn't want to seem to be taking away so much," so he added a variety of snacks more filling than typical airline-sized bags. His pitch: Convince suppliers to offer products at cost, or free, in exchange for reaching 28 million passengers annually.

The strategy drew Crave's Candy Co. VP Chris Emery. The company expects to sample 4 million bags of its Clodhoppers on Air Canada this year. To win that much sampling through traditional means, he said, would cost the company at least $2.5 million.

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