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Household Products Being Introduced at Record Rate

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Times Staff Writer

Food company executives apparently think Americans have a fascination for innovations, a short attention span, fading product loyalty or a bit of all three attributes. This question of perceptions arises because new product introductions for the first few months of 1986 are continuing at a record-setting pace.

Manufacturers’ large-scale effort to update, improve, reduce calories, add fiber and continually rediscover items considered “gourmet” has meant that for the first quarter of this year there were 16.7% more new products hitting store shelves than during the same period in 1985, according to Martin Friedman, editor of New Product News.

In March, for instance, each day there were seven food or household items made available to supermarkets for the first time.

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Behind every product reformulation or introduction is the marketing specialist’s dream of bringing along that special something that will capture consumers’ attention and dollars. One such product, Cherry Coke, was introduced last year by the Coca-Cola Co. and is now estimated to be generating sales of more than $800 million annually.

Friedman believes that in 1986 the major success stories could come in the form of the higher-priced packaged foods that appeal to an individual’s sense of luxury.

“From our view, food manufacturers’ primary strategy these days can be described in one word: upgrade,” he said during a presentation at last week’s Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago. “We seem to see more and more new items appearing which provide consumers with an advancement in both quality and price, almost to the point where ordinary supermarket products can now be called gourmet.”

These products take many different forms but can usually be identified by either the use of the word classic in the label; a European-sounding name; an allusion to royalty, or simply a price tag somewhere over $2 per serving.

There are several other categories Friedman feels will do well for the duration of the year. One such grouping is those items that appeal to the health conscious with what Friedman calls the “no syndrome.” Included in this bunch are products with reduced amounts of salt, sugar, calories or fat. Also considered in this category are those foods being promoted as containing more fiber, calcium or vitamins.

Other products that look healthy for 1986 are virtually all soft drinks and juice drinks; snack foods that can be heated; pasta, and those items with technologically advanced packaging.

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On the Upscale--There are a number of items now available, or in test markets, that cater to those who fashion themselves as gourmets but rely on processed food for shortcuts. Several are worth noting.

From Frieda of California comes the perfect product for people who have never mastered the art of crepe making. The Los Angeles-based firm is distributing Table de France Crepes, which are fully cooked and can be eaten “straight from the package.” Ten of these nine-inch fancy pancakes are in each package along with recipes. Made from so-called pure ingredients, the crepes have a relatively long three-week shelf life and remain edible for two months when refrigerated.

Continuing with the European-sounding name theme is an imported pasta product from Reese Finer Foods Inc., of Paterson, N.J. The company is offering Da Vinci Multi-Colored Tortellini. This rainbow assortment of tiny, circular pastas is filled with Parmesan cheese and satisfies several hearty appetites. The firm claims that one (eight-ounce) package can serve as many as five people.

Yet another foreign concept has arrived in the form of Terry Lynn English Crumpets. However, consumers could be excused if they mistake these Canadian-made English Crumpets for looking surprisingly like American-made English muffins. The company explains the similarity by stating that crumpets are differentiated from their muffin counterparts mostly by preparation techniques. “The crumpet is a unique yeast-raised product that has the consistency of batter and is baked on a traveling griddle,” the product announcement stated.

What may have the most sales potential in this premium category is a preserve that has so much fruit its manufacturer refuses to call it jam. Polaner Inc. of Great Neck, N.Y., recently revealed its All Fruit at the FMI convention. Although the product resembles a fine preserve, the company states that it is a spreadable fruit which is sweetened only with natural fruit juices. Packaged in a glass jar, All Fruit has only 14 calories per teaspoon and qualifies under the “no syndrome.” The product’s label states that All Fruit contains no sodium, no preservatives and no artificial color or flavor.

The Novelty of Frozen--As summer nears, there also seems to be a great deal of activity in what used to be called simply “the ice cream category,” but has been expanded to include all types of specialty items.

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At the super premium level, Haagen-Dazs is no longer content to remain in a carryout container. The company announced recently that it will begin offering its own Ice Cream Bar in what looks like a move to compete with the success of Chicago-based Dove Bar. The Haagen-Dazs bar consists of “three ounces of the world’s finest ice cream dipped in imported Belgian Callebaut chocolate.” The bar is currently available only in New York and Los Angeles. It seems the rest of the country will have to wait. Haagen-Dazs warns that the new bar will be distributed to other cities, if at all, on a “when-available basis.”

Fruit has never been more popular gauging from the wide variety of products that claim to include it as an ingredient. This is especially true with two new lines from Castle & Cooke Inc. and Chiquita Brands Inc. Both firms will directly compete with similar offerings of fruit and cream (frozen) bars, which seem to be the linear descendants of the old Creamsicle from Popsicle Industries. Castle & Cooke, under its Dole label, offers five different flavors (strawberry, blueberry, peach, banana and raspberry) in its 90-calorie bars. The product will be promoted with the slogan, “Dole makes Fruit and Cream taste like a dream.”

Chiquita Fruit & Cream Pops are available in the same flavors as Dole, with the addition of coconut. Chiquita offers its bars at a slimmer 75 calories per stick.

Also fighting for space in the frozen food counter will be Minute Maid’s Fruit Juicee, a frozen snack without the stick that is made from more than 90% juice. The cone-shaped treats come in six different flavors and are being produced by Coca-Cola Foods. Fruit Juicee was originally developed under a different name exclusively for the school lunch program in New York state. The reception there was so overwhelming that the firm will make Fruit Juicee available nationally, both in and out of school cafeterias.

Carbonation Creations--Pepsi-Cola USA is taking a page from the success of Cherry Coke, which is produced by its arch rival--Coca-Cola Co. The firm is now distributing a diet cherry cola as part of its Slice soft drink line. Pepsi’s introduction of the reduced calorie cherry cola is substantially ahead of Coke’s own introduction of Diet Cherry Coke, which is still in test marketing. And not only can Pepsi boast of being first with a diet cherry cola, but it also claims the product contains 10% fruit juice.

Friedman of New Product News reports limited availability of an item that may give pause to the soft drink giants. A Buffalo, N.Y., company is manufacturing Jolt Cola--it has all the sugar and twice the caffeine of regular cola drinks.

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There is little left to innovate in the wine cooler category with more than 100 different varieties of the wine and fruit mixtures available. But the Seagram Wine Co. has, in fact, come up with something different with its Natural Peach Flavored Wine Cooler.

If it’s difficult to come up with a new angle in the wine cooler segment, then it’s doubly trying for the beer manufacturers. However, the Stroh Brewery Co. decided recently to forgo the new product route and make a significant change in packaging. The company is the first to offer an odd-numbered amount of beers in a carry case with its 15-can packs. Consumers with a somewhat more substantial thirst can also try to pick up the company’s new 30-can pack.

Defying Departmentalization--Several items don’t fall easily into any particular category or classification. One such product is the Wonder Egg from Fazer Chocolates of Los Angeles. The unique Wonder Egg is a mixture of solid chocolate and ground hazelnut gingerly placed inside a real egg shell. Getting the candy inside a brittle, intact shell is a delicate chore, but the Wonder Egg has been manufactured for more than 100 years in Finland.

Not quite the technological task of fitting chocolate into a chicken egg is a product by Morinaga Nutritional Foods. The company has introduced its aseptically packaged tofu under the Mori-Nu Fresh Tofu label. Those familiar with tofu know that the soybean-based item is quite perishable. Because of the aseptic packaging, Mori-Nu tofu has a shelf life of about 10 months without refrigeration. So one can stock up now for Chinese New Year 1987.

Finally, for those health-conscious types concerned about sodium intake, Hormel is now offering Less-Salt Spam. This version of the widely known luncheon meat has all the things one would expect from Spam and 25% less salt.

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