Old El Paso: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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Old El Paso
Tony Pettinato
Old El Paso Taco Kits are a great fit for the down economy. The boxes of shells, beans and seasonings are easily transformed into an affordable meal for four. But that wasn't what was standing in the brand's way. It was Mom.

"What we found in our research is tacos are the ultimate winner meal, everybody loves them," said General Mills marketing director Peter McDonald. "But the frequency of tacos compared to those other meals people love, like pizza or spaghetti -- that will get the family around the table, Mom doesn't hear complaints and people chat about their day -- is less than four times a year." That's compared to about 17 times a year for pizza and spaghetti.

"We said OK, we can just grow this business if we started telling people about it," Mr. McDonald said. "They just need to remember. The economy certainly has given us a tailwind because people are eating at home more. They want more meals that the family will love and [we needed] to get into their routine." The goal was to recreate "taco night" as a regular family dinner event.

So the brand went back to the airwaves, with spots from creative agency Saatchi & Saatchi New York, for the first time in five years. And sales have surged as a result, up 9% in the most recent quarter alone. The taco kits in themselves present a win-win for marketer and consumer. General Mills can bundle its products for a bigger sale, and mothers doing the shopping don't have to comb the store for all of the ingredients.

Peter McDonald
Peter McDonald, marketing director, General Mills
Mr. McDonald said that Old El Paso has also looked for ways to underscore the fun and social aspect of taco night, with a dedicated microsite, ElTacoDor.com, offering games, prizes and coupons. Some of the games include telling what you did that day in "a sports announcer voice," listing ten vegetables that aren't green, and acting like a dinosaur for 10 seconds.

This kind of work is a piece of why Mr. McDonald isn't concerned about taco-night slippage when the economy recovers. While consumers are dining out less to cut back on spending, "they're looking to make the most of that time together," he said. "Taco night is a time when families connect."

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