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Snapple rolls out new flavors of juices and teas with regularity. But what the struggling Quaker Oats Co. brand needs now is a new flavor of advertising.

"Wendy is holding [Snapple] back," said Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, a New York consultancy that lists Quaker among its clients.

Wendy is Wendy Kaufman, a Snapple employee and spokeswoman for the brand in humorous TV commercials. The long-running ad campaign features Wendy answering letters from customers.

But dozens of competitors have entered the New Age beverage category, and sales growth in the category has slowed from a dizzying 65% last year to about 15%. With the brand expected to lose money on lower sales this year-after being acquired by Quaker last November-Snapple executives have conceded internally and at an Oct. 18-20 distributors meeting that it's time for a change.

Plans call for a new ad campaign to hit the air by April; it will be a departure from the letters campaign. Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, Snapple's agency, said it hasn't determined whether Wendy will play a role, but those close to Quaker said it's a foregone conclusion that she's out.

Mr. Pirko said Snapple's future depends on the development of advertising with real "heart and soul."

Snapple needs an image that can be a "kind of touchstone....that can allow for many different ads....but everything will point back to Snapple," he said.

A spokeswoman for Kirshenbaum Bond said development of the new campaign is in the early stages; a planning meeting was held this week.

Quaker wouldn't comment.

Other changes are in the works, too, including more traditional beverage marketing. One insider said to watch for a bottle-cap game promotion in 1996.

Quaker will hold its annual shareholders meeting Nov. 8 in Chicago, where it is expected to repeat some of what it said at the distributors meeting.

Distribution has been Snapple's biggest challenge in 1995. Folding Snapple's independent-distributor system into Quaker's Gatorade system proved difficult from both a cultural and a logistical standpoint. According to Beverage Digest, a trade magazine targeted at distributors, those at the October meeting reacted to Snapple's plans "with enthusiasm [and] some caution."

Absent from the shareholders meeting will be Philip Marineau, who resigned as Quaker president Oct. 23. Analysts and other observers say Mr. Marineau took the fall for Snapple's poor performance this year. That's ironic, said one source close to Quaker, since Mr. Marineau had opposed acquisition of the brand.

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