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"The best stuff on earth" strutted its stuff Aug. 6 at the first annual Snapple Beverages Convention in Hempstead, N.Y.

It was a time for the beleaguered brand to forget its troubles and dazzle fans with offbeat events, new flavors and packaging.

More than 3,000 Snapple enthusiasts came from as far away as Puerto Rico to a beverage-stocked gymnasium at Hofstra University, where they mingled with Wendy the Snapple Lady and other stars of the brand's quirky commercials.

"This is the ultimate expression of Snapple's love affair with its consumers," said Richard Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond Partners, New York, which hosted the event with Snapple parent Quaker Oats Co.

Consumers from 34 states could stroll through a blizzard of Snapple paraphernalia, much of it designed by Snapple fans themselves. A "SnapArt" exhibition showed off handmade items like Snapple soap and a welcome mat.

Conventioneers also surfed Snapple's new Web site, guessed which flavor they were sipping in blind taste tests and took in other Snapple-theme entertainment such as trivia contests, carnival games and a talent show.

Snapple's new line of Cider Teas-in apple pie, black cherry and peach melba flavors-was sampled at the convention. They will be in stores by September and sold only during fall unless consumer demand dictates otherwise.

A new Snapple 12-pack is also ready for national rollout, after June distribution in California, Washington and Oregon supermarkets and convenience stores proved successful.

The new packaging was designed by Kirshenbaum Bond, agency of record for Snapple's $65 million account.

Mr. Kirshenbaum said Quaker is weathering the cold snap in Snapple's sales and its faith in the brand has not been shaken.

Snapple's supermarket sales have skidded this year, according to Information Resources Inc. For the 12 weeks ended June 18, sales of Snapple iced tea were down 19% from the same period a year ago, fruit blends were down 25%, and lemonades down 32% (AA, July 24).

"Wall Street put so much demand on stock prices," Mr. Kirshenbaum said. "You can't expect two cultures to come together without a bump in the road."

Snapple is on the verge of a comeback, said Snapple Beverage Corp. VP-Marketing Margaret Stender, adding that according to unreleased data from IRI, sales in July were up 17%. In the ready-to-drink segment for the year ended July 22, Snapple unit volume market share in supermarkets has risen 3 percentage points while competitors Arizona Iced Tea and Lipton Original each dropped a fraction of a share point.

"We're really optimistic now," Ms. Stender said. "We've opened the lines of communication with our distributors, and our volume has experienced double-digit growth. The hiccups are gone."

TV spots featuring Wendy for the new line of Cider Teas are in development, the agency said. Addressing speculation that Quaker was reconsidering the letter-reading secretary as a spokeswoman, Mr. Kirshenbaum said Wendy will continue to be the centerpiece of any creative through 1996, though they are looking to use her in new formats.

Wendy herself even hosted a Wendy look-alike competition at the convention.

"I heard about the convention and thought it was a great idea," 19-year-old Jana Vasilko said of the matching dangling earrings and sarong she fashioned out of almost 500 Snapple caps.

Like so many of the executive decisions Snapple makes, the request for a convention came from one of the thousands of letters Wendy receives each month. When 6-year-old Jennifer Murry of Memphis, Tenn., wrote in, "Shouldn't Snapple have some kind of special day ..... ," her wish was her favorite drink's command.

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