Charlie the Tuna Resurfaces for StarKist | Adweek Charlie the Tuna Resurfaces for StarKist | Adweek
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Charlie the Tuna Resurfaces for StarKist

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NEW YORK StarKist is asking consumers to "Think tuna" in a new campaign that promotes the different flavors and uses of its shelf-stable pouched products.

The campaign, via Think360, Tarrytown, N.Y., comes as cash-strapped consumers explore the center aisles of stores looking for values. Thus, the new work taps into two trends: Consumer need for inexpensive sources of protein, and the recent resurgence of center-store shopping, said Joe Tuza, StarKist svp of marketing, research and development.

“We’ve seen some decline in this category over the last three to five years,” Tuza said, noting that shelf-stable tuna sales have really picked up in the last six to eight months. Dollar sales of canned tuna -- a $1 billion category -- were up 6.70 percent for the 52 weeks ended July 12, per IRI. (The data excludes Walmart sales.) During that same period, StarKist's pouched business had $18 million in sales across its tuna and albacore lines.

StarKist, which was acquired last year by Korean food company Dongwon from Del Monte Foods for $363 million, is spending more than $9 million on the effort. This marks the first time StarKist has put significant advertising dollars behind the pouched side of its business, since the original Creations pouches were launched in 2001.

TV ads touting the products begin full-throttle this week, and a full-page ad ran in Thursday's USA Today. The ads ask consumers to jazz up ordinary foods such as a taco, burger or stir-fry with such varieties as Hickory Smoked, Herb & Garlic and Sweet & Spicy Tuna. “We’ve turned regular tuna into a flavor explosion to make any meal more exciting!” the copy reads.

The pouched tuna varieties are also being promoted in a sweepstakes, “Tear Into Flavor & Win,” which goes live this week and will reward one winner with a $500 cash prize each day. (The promo runs through Oct. 13.)

StarKist's goal is to increase consumption of its pouched tuna. Only 10 percent of U.S. households currently consume StarKist tuna in pouches, while the canned business has a 60 percent penetration, Tuza said. Those incorporating tuna into meals tend to buy the canned product, while consumers who eat it on-the-go, such as the gym or health-conscious demographic, prefer the pouch.

One way the company hopes to connect with consumers is by bringing back Charlie the Tuna, a fish mascot that was first created by ad agency Leo Burnett in the 1960s. The mascot has been out of the limelight since 2002, when he last appeared in TV commercials for StarKist's Flavor Fresh Pouch. Unlike earlier ads, where Charlie was often the hero of the spot, the new ads position the pouch -- or the featured flavor -- as the hero.

One spot, for instance, shows a consumer tearing open a pouch to discover its different flavors. It then shows how the ready-to-eat tuna can instantly spice up a burger or noodle salad. The ad also plays up tuna’s omega-3 and low-calorie benefits. Charlie the Tuna appears at the end as the voiceover says, “Tuna like you’ve never tasted it before.”

“Think Tuna” will run through November, and TV spots include a five-second tag for StarKist's new Sandwich-Ready Tuna Salad. There is also a tie-in with Martha Stewart, including an integrated television show segment, promotional giveaways and exclusive recipes. Tuza said the campaign targets busy moms and on-the-go health-conscious consumers.

By making bigger gains on the shelf-stable side, StarKist plans to branch out to other categories, including frozen foods, Tuza said. He added: “This is our first step into not just the perimeter [of the store] but into frozen, refrigerated and complete meals.”