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Procter & Gamble Co. on Oct. 30 will begin testing Luvs Training Pants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in a move that suggests the often maligned brand is far from dead.

At the same time, the company will use that Texas market to try out some changes in its regular Luvs disposable diaper line aimed at shelf efficiency for retailers and product improvement for consumers.

P&G for the last 18 months has been attempting a comeback in the intensely competitive $3.6 billion disposable diaper and training pants category. It has become a game of one-upsmanship as P&G battles Kimberly-Clark Corp.'s Huggies brand to offer the latest product innovations. Most P&G product improvements have shown up on lead brand Pampers-but now the lower-price Luvs is becoming the market guinea pig.

To streamline the number of stock-keeping units, Luvs will give up boy/girl versions and simply offer one unisex diaper in the test market. This will reduce the number of SKUs from 10 to five for the line, making it more efficient for retailers and less confusing for consumers.

Ironically, Luvs pioneered gender-specific diapers in the late 1980s.

Luvs Training Pants, also unisex, will be sold in two sizes.

Along with a return to unisex diapers, Luvs will offer a new protective liner in the three larger diaper sizes renamed Luvs Baby Guards. The liner has a silky, soft layer with thousands of cone-shaped holes that funnel wetness away from the baby's skin, confirmed a P&G spokesman. The two smaller sizes without the liner will carry the Luvs Leakguards label.

TV spots from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, for the restaged diaper line and training pants begin in early December, though spending for the test could not be determined.

With these marketing initiatives for its secondary Luvs brand, P&G is signaling its commitment to the line that was repositioned 11/2 years ago. At that time, the company removed Luvs from its premium niche and restaged it as a value-price, quality national brand able to compete against private label alternatives. Its larger Pampers brand continues to go head-to-head with Kimberly-Clark's Huggies in the premium-price segment.

"Procter recognizes that consumers are value-conscious and they've seen the growth of value-priced training pants," said one competitor, who was somewhat surprised that P&G would test training pants under the Luvs label on the heels of sister brand's Pampers Trainers' national rollout. "I would question the wisdom of having both Pampers and Luvs training pants in a market that's not that big."

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