Singing a Different Tune

When it comes to selling sweet goods, it’s all about indulgence. It’s all about taste. It’s all about temptation and getting consumers to make that impulse purchase.
So when McKee Foods rolled out its latest advertising campaign for its Little Debbie brand, the Collegedale, Tenn.-based producer of snack cakes and other sweet goods found a perfect fit with “My Girl,” a Motown classic from the 1960s by, naturally, The Temptations.
In one commercial set in a school lunchroom, a boy pulls a Little Debbie out of a lunch box, and starts singing “My Girl” in a cappella format. In the beginning, everyone is looking at him strangely, but soon another kid joins him in song. Eventually the whole room is a chorus of “My Girl.” In another commercial, the scenario is repeated when a camper receives a care package from home.
Judging by the dozens of letters the company has received since the commercials debuted, the “My Girl” commercials have “struck a chord” with audiences of all ages, says Barry Anthony, McKee’s director of marketing. Apparently, “My Girl” has proven effective because the song conjures up feelings of nostalgia, tradition, innocence and love, all emotional attributes that the Little Debbie brand shares.
In fact, Anthony notes, the campaign has been so popular that McKee is planning to continue to run it for at least another year.
“It’s a song that Baby Boomers remember from their youth, and now young people are becoming familiar with it,” he says.
When it comes to marketing in the sweet goods category, bakers and snack producers are using a whole band of instruments to delight consumers and prompt them to download their delicacies that are playing in a wide variety of distribution channels.
One of the most challenging instruments to play in this indulgent segment is the health or nutrition tune. Even Krispy Kreme, renowned for its hot-glazed donuts, announced that it’s developing a low-sugar treat to attract diabetics and dieters. Although details are sketchy at this time, the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company hinted that the product may be available by next year.
Unlike in the 1990s, when many low-fat sweet goods lacked taste and consequently soured consumers, bakers today are formulating a new generation of snacks that still taste good but are perceived as more healthful than the original versions.
Weston Foods U.S., for example, is catering to the new age of consumers who have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon by recently rolling out a line of Atkins-endorsed baked sweet goods.
This spring, Weston introduced six lower-carb baked sweet goods under the Entenmann’s brand. Packaged in a light blue-and-white box with the Atkins logo prominently displayed, the carb-reduced sweet goods include blueberry breakfast muffins, a butter loaf, chocolate chip and nut loaf, chocolate chip cookies, fudge nut brownie and a crumb-topped French butter cake.
Gary Prince, president of Weston Foods U.S., says the Atkins-endorsed sweet goods allow consumers to enjoy the sweet life while monitoring their carb intake.
“People are going to indulge, and that’s what Entenmann’s is,” he says. “It’s a product for people to indulge, whether it’s a donut, cake or pie. To the extent that we can make those products a little bit better for you, and give you the same indulgence, that’s good because people are going to indulge anyway.”
Moreover, the company plans to be responsible in another way. By the end of this year, it expects to remove trans-fats from nearly all of its sweet goods. For Prince, new nutrition labeling guidelines that require the labeling of trans-fat in 2006 simply gave the company no choice.
“We had to do it sooner than later,” he says. “We’re already [trans-fat] free in breads. In sweet goods, we’ve made a good start, but there’s a lot to do.”
Likewise, Otis Spunkmeyer has replaced the trans-fat in its newly formulated “Oh…so Good” muffin line, which is a line of fully baked, thaw-and-serve products that are sold to foodservice operators and in-store bakers. At the same time, the San Leandro, Calif.-based company improved the products in a number of ways, notes Julie West, director of marketing.
First, it intensified the flavor and added more inclusions to its Wild Blueberry, Banana Nut and Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffins. Specifically, it added more blueberries to the blueberry muffin, more banana flavor to the banana nut and more chocolate to the chocolate chip. Otis Spunkmeyer selected these varieties because they are the three selling flavors in the foodservice channel.
Moreover, it heightened its visual appeal of the products by making them look more homemade. “We changed the formulas so that they crowned and peaked more, which are two important attributes to consumers because they look more homemade that way,” West says.
Overall, Otis Spunkmeyer produces 13 muffin varieties — 11 full flavor and two reduced fat — in both the foodservice channel. West notes that the company may adjust the formulas of its other products so that they crown and peak better.
Across the board, sweet goods producers note that portability and convenience are the real instruments that are driving sales.
In fact, Weston’s Entenmann’s business has experienced solid top-line growth partly because of its grab-and-go products such as donuts and snack cakes that are appearing in a wide variety of distribution channels. On the other hand, sales of full-sized sheet cakes and family-sized desserts are not as robust.
“I would say that eat-at-home products — what I call knife-and-fork products — are slow, but hand-held, eat-on-the-run and portion-controlled ones are very strong,” Prince says.
Just as importantly, developing a product line that caters to multiple eating occasions throughout the day is critical to the category’s growth in the long run.
For example, West notes that 27% of muffin consumption is outside of the breakfast occasion, and it’s growing. Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, which come in 2-, 4- and 6-oz. sizes, are considered both a dessert and a grab-and-go snack that can be eaten throughout the day, she says.
Proper merchandising and having the right product mix is just as critical, especially with such impulse-driven items as snack cakes, donuts and other sweet goods, adds Cindy Lawson, director of snacks marketing for Flowers Specialty Group, which sells sweet goods under the Bluebird and Mrs. Freshley’s labels.
“When we’re putting together a program, whether it is with a convenient store or vending customer, we like to see a good mix of products for different times of the day,” Lawson explains.
While honey buns and donuts are more breakfast items than snacks, Flowers considers créme-filled snacks as geared toward more afternoon and evening consumption.
“If a consumer chooses to eat a cupcake for breakfast, that’s great, but at the same time, we want to have honey buns or donuts available so that he or she has a choice,” Lawson says. “We know a consumer is not going to buy every SKU [stock-keeping unit] we have, but we want to make sure that the right SKU is available at the time.”
In some channels, such as vending, improper merchandising can lead to lost sales. “The research in vending shows that when someone approaches a machine, they already know what they are going to buy,” Lawson notes. “If they want a pastry product, and there’s no pastry products, they’ll walk away at least 25% of the time.”
To better catch consumers’ attention at the moment of purchase, several sweet goods producers have redesigned their packaging with bolder graphics that heighten the brand and the product’s perception. Flowers, for example, redesigned its family-packs last year to better convey the quality of the product and more effectively drive home the price/value equation.
“We are continually re-evaluating our design because that is the way we talk to consumers,” Lawson notes. “When we make consumer investments, we usually do it through our packaging. That’s the last point of decision.”
Meanwhile, Kansas City, Mo.-based Interstate Bakeries Corp. is running a contest where six- to 11-year-olds can win a number of products, including a $40,000 college scholarship, by redesigning its Twinkies packaging. The contest is the first in a series of promotions that the maker of Hostess products is conducting as part of its countdown to the 75th birthday of the Twinkie next year.
In yet another redesign, Philadelphia-based Tasty Baking Co. dramatically revamped its packaging to showcase its Tastykake’s products with eye-catching photography that increases appetite appeal. Charles Pizzi, Tasty’s president and CEO, called the move “one of the most comprehensive package redesigns in the company’s 90-year history.”
In addition to the contemporary redesign of the venerable brand, the company introduced two new Kandy Kakes — a raspberry variety with dark chocolate and raspberry filling and a Boston Kreme variety enrobed in milk chocolate.
Moreover, in an oldie-but-goodie move, the company added 50% more filling to its cream-filled cupcakes. Last year, it added 20% more filling to its line of snack pies. For consumers, giving them more — just like giving them something new — is simply music to their ears.

Snack Cakes
(For 52 weeks ending Dec. 7, 2003)
Rank Brand Dollar
(in millions)
1 Little Debbie $230.1 +3.7 32.5
2 Hostess $212.6 -3.8 30.0
3 Private Label $81.1 +13.6 11.4
4 Tastykake $69.0 +2.0 9.7
5 Drake’s $40.2 -7.0 5.7
  TOTAL* $708.5 +1.5 100.0
*including brands not shown
Source:Information Resources Inc., Supermarkets, Drug Stores and
Mass Merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart

(For 52 weeks ending Feb. 29, 2004)
 Rank  Brand Volume
1 Krispy Kreme 61.4 +33.8 23.5
2 Entenmann’s 54.2 +7.7 20.7
3 Private Label 44.1 +4.9 16.9
4 Hostess 30.0 -4.0 11.5
5 Dolly Madison 14.6 -9.0 5.6
  TOTAL* 261.4 +9.3 100.0
*including brands not shown
Source: Information Resources Inc., Supermarkets Only. At this time, current dollar sales data not available from IRI for this category.