Consumer Nation

Kitchen Bailout: Food Companies Go Retro


Rummaging around the cupboard lately?

You’re not alone. A growing number of food manufacturers are showing the staples in their portfolio a little more love these days in an attempt to remind frugal gourmets of the basics.

How basic? Think butter and canned goods.

Del Monte is rolling out its first television campaign for its canned fruits and vegetables in a decade. The campaign, which is called “Stretch Your Dollar,” not surprisingly stresses a value message, and is aimed at consumers who want to eat healthy on the cheap.

According to Brandweek, Del Monte will spend $2 million on the effort this spring and another $13 million in September. Last year, the company spent only $5 million advertising its shelf-stable fruits and vegetables.

Land o’ Lakes also is going no frills. In recent years, the company has pitched its spreadable butter, but now it’s advertising its basic butter for the first time in 10 years.

Del Monte and Land o’ Lakes are not alone, new ads are airing for a number of products you may not have thought of in years: Hamburger Helper, Kool-Aid drink mix, Spam, and Dinty Moore stew, among others.

Hormel boosted spending on Spam advertising last year, and began its first-ever national ad campaign for Dinty Moore Stew. In the three months ended Jan. 25, sales for both products were up by a double-digit percentage rate, according to an Associated Press article on the trend.

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General Millsplans to boost spending on Hamburger Helper by a double-digit percentage rate in the coming fiscal year, which begins in June. Not only does the product cost only $2 a box, you don't have to be a chef to make a meal.

Even for products that don’t involve food, advertisers are keeping it simple. One example that stands out is Allstate Insurance’s “Back to Basics” commercial, which harkens back to tough times such as the Great Depression, and talks about resilience and how fear morphs into an increased appreciation of the little things in life like a home-cooked meal.

The strategy not only speaks to a desire to cash in on consumers’ penny-pinching ways, it’s also about defending their turf from the threat of store brands. In the 52 weeks ended March 21, sales of store brands rose 9.1 percent to $84.8 billion, while the sales of brand-name goods rose just 1.7 percent to $421 billion, according to Nielson.

There’s also less competition from new products. Market researcher Mintel said Tuesday the number of food and drink product launches has been cut in half since last year.

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The decline in new products has been particularly steep among non-alcoholic beverages, chocolate, sugar and gum confectionery and dairy products. (Although the data on chocolate may be impacted by the later timing of Easter, Mintel said.)

The pattern is not surprising, and unlikely to last, according to Lynn Dornblaster, a new product expert at Mintel.

The firm has tracked new products through three major recessions, consistently observing that new product launches decline somewhat at the beginning of a recession and then quickly increase once the economy begins to recover.

So perhaps here’s a new recession indicator for you: look for TV commercials to shift from sliced bread to the greatest thing since, er..well, sliced bread, and we just might be coming out of the doldrums.

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