Mintel International, a British market research publisher, reports
that new food and beverage products introduced in the US have fallen 25%
in the past four years, from 12,483 in 1997 to 9,417 last year. But this
isn't necessarily bad news for those in food PR: the trade is steadily
commanding larger chunks of the sector's marketing budgets.
Food companies, tired of investing millions in new products (most of
which fail), have turned to acquiring market share rather than fighting
for it with new product launches. Recent examples include Kraft taking
over Nabisco and General Mills merging with Pillsbury.
'There is more consolidation going on, and the more consolidation, the
less competition and need for new products,' says Michael Fineman,
principal of Fineman Associates PR in San Francisco.
The larger the company, the more difficult it is for a new product to
have a major impact on bottom line. The amount of money a company stands
to lose on a failed new product often outweighs the potential gains of a
'Many of these large food companies are really risk averse,' says Stacey
Antine Raidy, an SVP at Ogilvy.
Successful new products often sell their benefits by tying into consumer
health concerns or the simple desire to have fun with food. Products
that convince consumers why they're different can be pitched as
Products that are merely brand line extensions have to appeal to brand
loyalty or fun to capture shoppers' attention.
'There's an advantage to being out first with a new product, says Peter
Brace, VP and director of the food, beverage and nutrition practice at
Manning, Selvage & Lee. 'You don't want to trumpet a 'me too'
The power of PR
Food companies are increasingly looking to PR to tell a product's story.
Cathy Calhoun, president of BSMG's Chicago office, says that PR spending
accounts for 5% to 15% of overall marketing budgets for typical new
product rollouts today, compared to 1% to 5% a few years ago.
'Innovation is expensive,' says Robbie Vorhaus, president and CEO of
Vorhaus & Co. Bertolli Olive Oil, a Vorhaus client, spends 32% to 40% of
its total marketing budget on PR. Paul Barrett, communications manager
at Bertolli, wants to educate consumers about the benefits of olive oil
and the differences in varieties, and he thinks PR is a better tool than
'Food is fun - it's emotional, but it's also complex,' says Jill
McDonough, EVP and deputy general manager of the consumer practice at
Edelman PR Worldwide. 'Rarely can those issues be addressed in a 30- or
Many contend that pitching consumer trends, such as healthy eating,
generates a better response from picky producers, editors and,
'A lot of times you have to broaden the story,' says MSL's Brace.
PR is good at pushing product health benefits by commissioning
scientific studies on ingredients, and making results available in
places like consumer Web sites. 'Everyone sees food as a health panacea,
and that trend continues,' Brace says.
Last year Ogilvy rolled out a new Minute Maid orange juice containing
vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc during flu season with the message that
these could bolster the immune system. A symposium at an American
Dietetic Association meeting furthered the message by reaching
dietitians, says Raidy.
When rolling out Sara Lee's Calzone Creations, Doug Dome of Dome
Communications in Chicago directed the media to what he saw as an
emerging trend. He went to AP just before a major food industry trade
show in Chicago last spring with the idea that Americans were turning
their backs on low-fat and no-fat foods. The new calzones were a perfect
example. AP and Good Morning America ran the story, and the Calzones
became one of the most covered products at the show.
'But when you've got something revolutionary, then a straight product
approach is the way to go,' says Ellen Ryan Mardiks, worldwide director
of marketing and brand strategy with Golin/Harris in Chicago.
Magnet Communications did just that last year when it introduced Heinz
green ketchup in a squirt bottle, says Julia Brannan, VP of the agency's
consumer practice. 'When you have a product like green ketchup, there is
inherent news value to it,' she says.
The green-ketchup exception
Heinz came out with a new squirt bottle that's easy for kids to use
after interviewing more than 1,000 children. The company wanted to
publicize the new package, but 'the color of the ketchup was just such a
huge story,' Brannan says.
Heinz hadn't planned to unveil the new product until this winter, but
when it heard a trade publication was set to break the story last
summer, Brannan advised moving up the launch. 'Our counsel was to take
control of the story,' she says. Within 72 hours, she prepared a PR plan
that began with giving AP the first look.
As an AP story moved over the wires July 10, 2000, Brannan turned to
business TV shows and set up interviews with Heinz executives. B-roll of
kids using the ketchup went out to TV consumer news shows. Brannan had
only six product samples available at the time, which she sent to
network morning news shows on a Sunday night to get stories aired on
The first 24 hours garnered massive exposure. Overall, the launch
reached 198 million people through TV and print coverage in more than
1,000 newspapers, including USA Today and The New York Times.
When the media won't bite
But not all foods have the media appeal of green ketchup. According to
Vorhaus, 'Most new products are a tough sell.' For example, he says,
calling the Today show to talk about a new food product often gets no
The morning shows tend to see pitching food products as too
'There is a bias against food PR,' says Vorhaus. 'No TV producer wants
to provide free time to sell someone's latest food offering.'
Some new food products get around the problem by partnering with other
recognized brands to reach particular consumer markets. When Publicis
was promoting Stouffer's new Oven Sensations last year, it teamed with
GE's new Advantium Speedcook Oven. Oven Sensations put cooking
directions for using the new GE oven on its packaging and held a contest
that gave away a year's supply of Oven Sensations and a new GE oven.
While there may be fewer new products coming to the market, more PR
resources are likely to be used to connect with skeptical consumers.
Says Fineman: 'You just can't put a product out there and say, 'Hey,
I've got something new.' You have to say why consumers should care.'
A SAMPLING OF SUCCESSFUL FOOD PRODUCT LAUNCHES
PRODUCT: Emeril's Original by B&G Foods
Introduced: September 2000
PR Firm: M Booth & Associates
CHALLENGE: Introduce and generate excitement for a line of seasonings,
salad dressings, sauces and marinades for celebrity chef Emeril
ACHIEVEMENT: More than 160 stories and 40 million consumer impressions
generated during the first three months
PRODUCT: Hemp Bar by Govinda Fitness Foods
INTRODUCED: Fall 2000
PR FIRM: Envision
CHALLENGE: Introduce a new product with a controversial main ingredient
on a small budget
ACHIEVEMENT: Attracted three-time Grammy winner Ziggy Marley to endorse
the product and promote it on his concert tour. Results include nearly
400 nationally syndicated newspaper stories, a Whole Life Times cover, a
TV feature and a syndicated Variety online article
PRODUCT: Eggo Waf-fulls by Kellogg's
INTRODUCED: Fall 2000
PR FIRM: Fleishman-Hillard
CHALLENGE: Capturing attention for a product extension of an established
brand with numerous existing extensions
ACHIEVEMENT: More than 100 story placements and 148 million consumer
impressions; 98% of coverage contained a key brand message or visual of