Still Selling After All These Years: Product Winners

Times Staff Writer

Food company executives dream about developing products that will remain popular with the public over a decade or more. At present, a new item is considered successful if it generates strong sales for just a few years before fading to the whims of changing consumer buying habits.

So the fact that several products have just passed the quarter-century mark as supermarket fixtures is all the more noteworthy, according to a food industry journal.

"Only an estimated 5.4% of the new products introduced in 1964 are still on the supermarket shelf today. But some of these have achieved superstar status," Grocery Marketing magazine reports.

Although the names are familiar, several of the survivors can be considered a surprise.

Chief among these are Pop-Tarts from Kellogg. The line of shelf-stable, fruit-filled pastries that are heated in the toaster continues to dominate the category it created.

Still Charming After All These Years

Lucky Charms cereal from General Mills also is 25 years old. The product still is heavily promoted by the manufacturer, indicating that the firm has confidence in the staying power of this children's cereal.

There is no surprise to be found in Diet Pepsi's success, however. Introduced as a low-calorie beverage in 1964, Diet Pepsi is now the fourth best-selling soft drink, with 5.2% of the nation's soda sales. Pepsico also is spending more to promote and advertise the diet version of its flagship brand than in previous years, according to Grocery Marketing.

One of 1964's biggest items, in terms of its continued success, has been Dorritos Tortilla Chips. In retrospect, the snack food may have been partially responsible for the eventual emergence of a full line of Mexican food products in supermarkets.

"More than 1.2 billion bags of Dorritos were purchased in 1988, nearly five for every man, woman and child in the United States," the journal reported.

Helping the brand maintain momentum has been the introduction of several new varieties over the years, including the recent debut of Dorritos Light. Reportedly, Dorritos are one of the most popular dry, packaged goods sold in supermarkets today.

Grocery Marketing also identified some of the biggest "flops" from 25 years ago.

Among these was Warm Welcome, a Nabisco snack cracker with an Italian meatball flavor.

Another unsuccessful venture was Jolli-Lolli from Fairmont Foods. This frozen treat contained a candy sucker inside a chocolate-coated ice milk bar, according to the magazine.

Jell-O had some problems with two items it brought to market in 1964. These included mixed vegetable and celery flavored gelatins sold under the Jell-O for Salads label.

And Colgate-Palmolive also had trouble with its Bite 'N Brush. This personal hygiene product was actually concentrated tooth paste in tablet form. Rather than carrying a tube around, consumers need only chew the mint-shaped ovals after a meal and the tablets would "burst into rich cleansing foam . . . ready for brush action," Grocery Marketing reported.

Beer Innovation--While food companies are constantly trying to bring new products to market, it has taken one Belgium brewery 150 years to develop something different.

This beverage, though, can claim to be novel as well as new.

Lindeman's Farm Brewery, founded in 1816, is now importing its peach beer to the United States. Labeled as Peche Lambic, the beer is sold in 12-ounce bottles sealed with a cork.

The brewer, based in Vlezenbeek, Belgium, is known for its two other fruit beers: Krieken (black cherry) and Framboise (raspberry).

Innovations do not come cheap as the new peach beer will sell for $5 a bottle. The steep price reflects the extended brewing process involved in making the firm's Lambic beers. For instance, Lindeman's ages its fermented malted barley, wheat and wild yeast for 18 months in oak barrels, a process normally reserved for premium wine. Only then is fruit added to impart the distinctive color and flavor.

Apparently, the Belgians had to be persuaded by the firm's U.S. importer to experiment with the new flavor. A representative of Seattle-based Merchant du Vin suggested using peaches after a number of similarly flavored wines became popular in this country.

The brewers recommend serving Peche Lambic chilled in a fluted glass as an aperitif or as a dessert beverage.

Topping Off Fire--The barbecue utensils and accessories market is also burgeoning with new products. The latest entry is alder wood chips being marketed under the Humboldt's Finest Smoke label. Though new to supermarkets, commercial fish processors commonly use alder wood to smoke salmon. And sportsmen also favor the chips for grilling fish or game.

"Alder wood is used by every smoke house in the Pacific Northwest," said John Wayne Miller, whose firm Miller & Reynolds Enterprises, manufactures the product. "People who have used it wouldn't try anything else."

After a 10 minute water-soaking, the coin-sized cuttings are placed atop coals to impart a rustic flavor to foods.

"Mesquite," Miller said, "is too heavy a flavor for fish, but alder wood really enhances seafood."

Realizing the difficulty in getting noticed among all the different briquettes and mesquite charcoal, the company decided to vintage date their "golden alder bar-b-que chips" as one way of being distinguished from the crowd.

Now, with the 1989 harvest already on the market, Miller & Reynolds have also announced plans for their own "smoke off" in the far northern coastal reaches of California.

On Aug. 19, the Humboldt's Finest Smoke Off will be held in Trinidad, Calif., 20 miles north of Eureka. The public is invited to make the trip along with barbecue grill and compete in any of four categories. These include fish, fowl, red meat or miscellaneous, the latter encompassing nontraditional grilled items such as pizza, bread, or vegetarian entrees. All entries must be cooked with alder wood chips.

Prizes will be awarded to the top finishers in each category. And the Smoke-off's proceeds will benefit the Trinidad Volunteer Fire Department.

For more information and entry forms, write Humboldt's Finest Smoke, P.O. Box 2567, McKinleyville, Calif. 95521, or call (213) 379-5053.

The alder wood chips sell for $7 per kilogram and are packed in a reusable cloth bag. They can be purchased locally at Alpha Beta stores and Big 5 Sporting Goods.

Cool Prose--A competition of a colder sort is being staged by Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream. The company has announced it is again staging an essay contest in hopes of locating 20 people to become ice cream tasters for a day.

Winners receive a free trip to the firm's Oakland headquarters and then will assist Dreyer's officials in deciding which new flavors to introduce in the coming year. Other prizes include dinner at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf and two nights' lodging. Winners also receive their weight in ice cream payable via gift certificates.

The 150-word, or less, essay must address why the contestant would make a good ice cream taster. Judges are looking for those who are passionate about frozen desserts.

Send entries to Ice Cream Taster, Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, P.O. Box 1188, Lafayette, Calif. 94549-1188. Essay deadline is Aug. 18.

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