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Gimme A Double Shake And A Lard On White


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GIMME A DOUBLE SHAKE AND A LARD ON WHITE

Tired of going to the supermarket and seeing hundreds of processed foods labeled "lite," "healthy," "low-fat," and "sodium-free?" Take heart, and check out some of the newer offerings. Many sport lite-free names such as Chocolate Macadamia, Cookie Dough Dynamo, or Roasted Honey Nut.

Health claims? Forget it. Examine the ingredients of Haagen-Dazs Co.'s new Triple Brownie Overload ice cream, and you find a catalog of everything that makes life worth living: fresh cream, sugar, chocolate liquor, butter, pecans, egg yolks. Oh, yes--there's skim milk, too.

Is fat back? Ever cagey, marketers aren't openly urging consumers to pig out anew. But in ads and labels, words such as "real" and "rich" are popping up more often. Says Lawrence K. Hathaway, president of the Best Foods grocery-products division at CPC International Inc.: "There is definitely a trend toward the full-flavored foods."

Full flavor often means plenty of salt, sugar, and fat. CPC's new Roasted Honey Nut Skippy peanut butter has more than 4% of the market. Fat per serving in the chunky version: 32 grams, or 72% of calories. The six rich new ice creams launched in Haagen-Dazs's "Extraas" line have increased the company's dollar share of the ice cream market from 5.9% to 7.9%. Overall, Haagen-Dazs's ice creams outsell its better-for-you frozen yogurt 13 to 1.

NERVOUS HUNGER. Meanwhile, marketers' zeal for making health claims for new products is ebbing. According to Tom Vierhile, executive editor of the research firm Marketing Intelligence Service Ltd., products claiming to have no or low cholesterol dropped to 11.9% of total introductions in 1992 from 14.1% in 1991. Products claiming to have no or low saturated fat dropped to 1.4% from 2%. And according to the Yankelovich Monitor survey of consumer trends from 1990 through 1992, the percentage of people who nosh frequently on salty snacks rose to 45% from 40%. Rice cakes, that stark symbol of unflavor, drooped three points.

So why is fat regaining favor? Call it a sign of nervous times. "In a period of increasing stress, consumers are placing emphasis on comfort foods," says Judith Langer, president of Langer Associates, a New York market-research firm. The sight of President Clinton chowing down at McDonald's probably helps, too. And after a decade of grimly gnawing on health foods, many are yearning for the real thing. "If I eat something I can't enjoy, like all this light stuff, then why eat anything at all?" says Stephen Bookspan, a 23-year-old owner of The Cartoon Saloon, a Manhattan bar.

Marketers are also aware of slowing sales for products that jumped aboard the health bandwagon. ConAgra Inc.'s Healthy Choice line of frozen low-fat and low-sodium dishes, for example, has floundered amid price wars. Frito-Lay Inc. is reporting "marginal to disappointing" sales of its light versions of Cheetos and Doritos. "People are not willing to compromise on flavor," says Dwight Riskey, vice-president for new products.

Campbell Soup Co., too, has learned that consumers don't always live up to their own best intentions. Its low-sodium soups have lagged behind its "traditional categories." So what's hot in soup? Cream of broccoli, launched in 1991, is Campbell's best-selling flavor in 35 years--with 7 grams of fat a serving. At Campbell's Pepperidge Farm Inc. unit, a new line of no-calories-barred soft-baked cookies is off to a brisk start, with two of the three varieties among the company's 10 best-selling cookies.

PIZZA HIT. Grocery stores aren't the only places taking on extra poundage. Wendy's International Inc. is rolling out new sandwiches almost every month that combine cheese, fried onions, and fried chicken or hamburger. Such weighty offerings outsell the fast-food chain's grilled chicken sandwiches almost 3 to 1. At Pizza Hut, a brand-new item is Steak Lover's Pizza. "It's doing much better than vegetarian pizza," says Bob Perkins, senior vice-president for marketing.

True, marketers are hardly abandoning low-fat or low-cholesterol foods. After all, the market is now worth an estimated $12 billion, according to Packaged Facts Inc., a New York research firm. But more and more companies are busy stocking the larder with richer fare to lure the shoppers who have seen the "lite"--and didn't like it. THE FAT IS BACK

Haagen-Dazs New super-rich "Extras" line has raised company's market share from

5.9% to 7.9%

Pepperidge Farm Its new "soft-baked" cookies, with about 40% of calories coming

from fat, are already the third-biggest line for the company

Skippy Rolled out in 1992, Roasted Honey Nut peanut butter has grabbed more

than 4% of its market

Wendy's New Wendy Melt and Dave's Deluxe sand-wiches--both overloaded versions

of a cheeseburger--outsell grilled offerings 3 to 1

DATA: COMPANY REPORTS, BUSINESS WEEK

Sunita Wadekar Bhargava in New York, with bureau reports


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