NEW YORK Call them grapes with capes. Welch's is touting its purple Concord grape as the original "superfruit" in its $20 million ad campaign kicking off this month.
The veteran juice brand is adding some heft to the hottest segment of the beverage business that includes hard chargers like Pom Wonderful and Honest Tea.
Overall, more than 200 beverage products bearing a superfruit launched this year, per Mintel. While there is no exact definition as to what a superfruit is, the category includes pomegranates, goji berry, noni, mangosteen and Oprah Winfrey's favorite: acai. Each is considered to have functional qualities, most commonly high levels of antioxidants.
Welch's is following the lead of Pom Wonderful, which pulled in $165 million in sales last year. Pom began marketing itself as something of a miracle drink in 2002. Today, its ads tout it as "Heart therapy" and encourage consumers to "Cheat death." The brand spent $6.4 million on ads in 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.
Welch's is taking a subtler tack by letting TV personality Alton Brown explain what polyphenols are to mainstream America. "The Concord, which besides being delicious, and extremely versatile, is great for your health," Brown says in a TV spot. "That's because it's packed with nutrients called polyphenols which appear to help protect healthy cells from the damaging effects of unstable molecules called free radicals. When you think about it, that makes the Concord grape something of a superfruit."
While that's a lot to cram into a 30-second ad, Chris Heye, vp, marketing for Welch's, said the target audience, women 25-54, are ready. "This year is the next level," Heye said.
Welch's began repositioning itself last year with its antioxidant message. Thanks to the new positioning, after four years of sales declines, it posted a 4 percent sales increase for the 12-month period ending in August, per the company. That was enough to convince the company to boost its ad budget by 50 percent for the latest effort.
The increased ad spend comes at a time when everyone from Target to Mike's Hard Lemonade has introduced a pomegranate product. "Everyone is copying Pom," said Gerry Khermouch, editor of Beverage Business Insights. "Their brilliant work on pomegranates has inspired marketers of every dark fruit to push the antioxidant button."
Honest Tea last month introduced its Superfruit Punch with Yumberry (a.k.a. yang-mei) and Goji berry last month. It also has Pomegranate White Teas with Goji Berries and Acai and Orange Mango with Mangosteen.
Honest Tea is no longer a small player in the beverage industry. It is now distributed through the powerful Coca-Cola system. Coke earlier this year purchased a 40 percent stake in the company for a reported $43 million.
This makes the arena all that more challenging for Welch's which also is battling its heritage as "a kid's drink with purple mustaches with puppies licking them off," said Greg Smith, chief creative officer at the Via, Portland, Maine, which created the new campaign. "Pom had an advantage because no one had heard of pomegranates. They went out of the gate with health promises."
Moving away from the kids segment, where white grape is preferred because it doesn't stain, is a good move for Welch's Concord grape, per Lynn Dornblaser, analyst at Mintel, Chicago. But, "Welch's is a little bit late to the superfruits game. This has been going on for three years now."
Whether consumers start to tune out this flurry of launches is an issue, said Khermouch: "But, at least grapes have the benefit of being a familiar ingredient and Pom Wonderful's yeoman work has probably cleared a path for Welch's to have a shot at being effective."
Jesse Merrill, Honest Tea director of marketing, said beverage marketers tend to be a little too close to their products. "If you work in the beverage industry, you say 'Oh, that's so two years ago,' and are already looking for the next great thing, the next Pom. [Meanwhile], mainstream America really isn't aware of these fruits."
As with Pom, rallying around science and research will only help Welch's, said Dornblaser. Concord grapes have many of the same properties of red wine because it is made with the seeds and the skin. "From that you get a lot of the extra benefits," Heye said. "We've done research to back up all of our claims and continue to invest and explore through clinical trials." And the good news is: "People already know we taste great."