IRI’s Top Launches of 2009

As the economy faltered in 2009, transparency, affordable luxury, value and health benefits were all the rage. At least those are a few of the patterns that emerged from Information Resources Inc.’s list of last year’s top launches, ranked by sales. The following report outlines the winners. Note: IRI’s data does not include Walmart sales.*

No. 1: Food
Campbell’s Prize Harvest

When Campbell Soup execs first floated the idea for Select Harvest, they discovered their biggest competitor was a fictional one.

In a 2007 focus group session, those execs gathered eight “heavy users” in the soup category and presented the product, which was made with natural ingredients and devoid of MSG. In the course of 90 minutes, the women told Campbell researchers everything they liked about the soup—“natural, white meat chicken,” “farm fresh vegetables,” etc. But when asked if they’d buy such a product, all eight paused and then said, well, no.

Why? It turns out the women thought such a soup already existed.

That insight informed advertising from BBDO that strived to be something of a reality check. In launching Select Harvest, the major challenge Campbell faced was getting women to realize that “they weren’t getting what they thought they were getting [from a soup today], and that’s exactly what we were bringing to them,” said Geoff Jackson, then senior brand manager on the business.

“It was literally one of those moments where we understood that in order for us to be able to win in this segment of the market, we had to [disrupt] their habitual purchasing behaviors,” he said.

Print and TV ads took a comparative approach. One ad showed a blindfolded woman testing two bowls of soup. The first, she proclaims, has “hydrolyzed vegetable protein and MSG,” while the other (Campbell’s) contains “Chicken! [and] 100 percent natural…white meat!”
Campbell maintains the effort was in no way a direct jab at its competitor (General Mills’ Progresso, which, in 2007, had launched Weight Watchers-endorsed “Light” soups), though the campaign later exploded into an all-out, MSG finger-pointing soup war between the two. Its goals with the ads, said Michael Barkley, vp of ready-to-serve soups, was to simply generate trial and awareness by “breaking through the fog and familiarity that people can sometimes have with Campbell’s and get them to try it.”

That’s because, as well-known as Campbell’s is, the target demo—women over 35—often felt a disconnect with the brand. “I grew up with Campbell’s, but [it] didn’t grow up with me,” was an oft-stated sentiment, Barkley said, adding that Campbell’s brand loyalty among this group spanned everything from “they loved the brand, they ate it as kids, they served it to their kids, they used it to cook. But when they sat down to have a bowl of soup, they didn’t pick Campbell’s. They didn’t feel the brand had grown up with them,” he said.

Two-hundred-and-two million in first-year sales later, Select Harvest has reconnected with the demo. Campbell last year added a dozen “100 percent natural” soups to its Select Harvest line, including five Mediterranean varieties. The launch prompted consumers to consider “the back of the label as the new front of the label,” Jackson said of Americans’ focus on real ingredients and transparency.

Sales: $201.8 million
Media Spend: $41 million**
Marketers: Michael Barkley, Geoff Jackson
Lead Agency: BBDO

2. Bud Light Lime Anheuser-Busch’s launch was targeted at consumers who liked a lighter, sweeter taste—a segment Miller had addressed with Chill. A-B soon found it had a hit, though one whose sales aligned with the summer months. So, in the next phase, A-B pitched it as a year-round brew. “A summer state of mind doesn’t go into hibernation,” said Gregg Billmeyer, vp, premium lights. “It merely takes on a different set of activities.”

Sales: $132.6 million
Media Spend: $75.5 million
Marketer: Gregg Billmeyer
Lead Agency: DDB Chicago

3. Arnold Select Sandwich Thins It may not have been the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it was the biggest thing to happen to the category in a while: thinly sliced circular bread that had a total of 100 calories for the equivalent of two slices (vs. 220 or so for two slices of standard bread). Tom Vierhile, research director at DataMonitor, said Arnold benefitted by noting a change in consumption habits: “One of the survivors of the low-carb trend was that consumers looked to other types of bread.”

Sales: $87.4 million
Media Spend: $6.9 million
Marketer: Jennifer Hartley, senior director-marketing (Note: Hartley left in December.)

4. Green Giant Valley Fresh Steamers Ho ho ho. General Mills’ venerable vegetable brand had the last laugh in 2009 with its microwave steamable line. General Mills didn’t invent the idea—microwave steamers have been around since at least 2007—but it capitalized on it well by combining vegetables and sauce. Jon Nudi, vp/director of Green Giant, said the product combined wellness and convenience: “No need to clean pots and pans.”

Sales: $85.4 millon
Media Spend: $7.4 million
Marketer: Jon Nudi
Lead Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi

5. Dreyer’s/Edy’s Fun Flavors With flavors like Cookie Dough and Cherry Chocolate Chip, the Dreyer’s/Edy’s entries met a hankering for mildly exotic hedonism at a mainstream price. “We found consumers were craving more indulgent and exciting flavors at a more approachable, all-family value,” said a rep. The result was a product that apparently sold itself—marketing consisted mostly of bright packaging and cooperation from retail partners like Kroger and Walmart. Satisfied with the success, the brands are rolling out snack-size versions of Fun Flavors this spring.

Sales: $72M
Media Spend: N/A
Marketer: Michael Scheu, consumer marketing director
Lead Agency: Goodby, Silverstein and Partners

6. Gatorade Tiger/Focus OK, try to get past the Tiger thing. True, the now-discontinued product probably benefited greatly from Woods’ pre-Thanksgiving appeal. But Krista Faron, lead innovation analyst at Mintel, said the drink had more going for it (or against it) than Tiger, namely an ingredient called theanine that is said to aid concentration. Faron said to expect more drinks making “brain health” claims, a category pioneered by Vitaminwater. “There’s a lot of potential in that market,” said Faron, who noted that such drinks are the rage in Europe and Asia.

Sales: $64.5 million
Media Spend: $39.9 million
Marketer: Matt Knox, vp-marketing Tiger Focus
Lead Agency: TBWA\Chiat\Day

7. Miller Genuine Draft Light 64 Like Arnold, Miller continued to thrive on the fumes of the mostly bygone low-carb craze, this time with an ultra-low-calorie (for beer) product. MDG 64, named for its 64 calories, built its marketing pitch around that calorie count. Though some beer fans complained about the lack of taste, there was no quibbling with the tagline: “As light as it gets,” a claim bolstered by ads comparing a glass of MDG 64 vs. the same caloric amount of Michelob Ultra.

Sales: $52.8 million
Media Spend: $3.5 million
Marketer: Grant Leech, MDG marketing director
Lead Agency: Y&R, Chicago

8. Mountain Dew Voltage In 2008, Mountain Dew used its Dewmocracy Web site (this was just before social networking took off) to ask consumers to vote on a new drink. Consumers voted on Voltage, a drink that vp-marketing Brett O’Brien said will not cannibalize sales: “Instead of getting people switching out [from traditional Mountain Dew], we’re adding new people.” Mountain Dew repeated the idea this year: Four new consumer-chosen Dew flavors launch in April.

$52.2 million
Media Spend: $5.1 million
Marketer: Brett O’Brien
Lead Agency: BBDO

9. Bush’s Best Grillin’ Beans Bush’s achievement was to increase the pairing occasions for baked beans with new flavors that were designed to complement other meals that people tend to grill. “We found through consumer research that we were showing up next to hamburgers and hot dogs, but not chicken, steak and chops,” said Scott Daniel, marketing director at Bush Bros. “We clearly saw an opportunity.” Bush’s plans to release two new flavors at the end of this month—black bean fiesta and Texas ranchero.

Sales: $45.2 million
Media Spend: $17.3 million
Marketer: Scott Daniel
Lead Agency: Doner

10. Kellogg’s FiberPlus Bars Americans want more fiber, but they don’t want it to taste like, you know, fiber. Realizing this, Kellogg played up the flavor part of the equation in its marketing. Ads play up the fiber and antioxidant content but also the “delicious taste of dark chocolate.” “Fiber wrapped in great taste is still a significant opportunity,” said Marisa Thompson, director of marketing for Kellogg Wholesome Snacks portfolio. “So many fiber products have that health bent,” said Mintel’s Faron. “This product goes in a slightly different direction.”

Sales: $44.7 milllion
Media Spend: $12.9 million
Marketer: Marisa Thompson
Lead Agency: Leo Burnett

No. 1: Non-Food
Plying Troubled Consumers

Americans may have cut back on top-of-the-line steak, fancy dress shoes and international travel, but one area in which many weren’t willing to compromise was toilet paper. Georgia-Pacific’s Quilted Northern Ultra Plush, the first mainstream three-ply U.S. bath tissue on the market, provided a measure of comfort during what for many was a rough year.

Much of the marketing team’s confidence centered on the concept of ply. (The latter refers to the number of layers within one bath sheet; two-ply is standard.) Ultra Plush’s consumers associated ply with quality. “The things that matter to her are softness, absorbency and ply,” Quilted Northern senior marketing director Patrick Davis said of the target, 35-year-old-plus female consumer. Ultra Plush improved on each of those features.

Until now, much of the innovation in the TP category has come in the form of softness or strength improvements, but Ultra Plush was able to expand on the “softness” aspect—while balancing sustainability issues—by using the same amount of fiber, but stretched across three plys, said Andrew Towle, vp/general manager of consumer bath tissue. (Towle added that environmental friendliness isn’t as big of a concern in the TP category, though rival Kimberly-Clark introduced Scott Naturals, a greener version of its best-selling bath tissue brand last year.)

Three-ply technology exists in other parts of the world, including Europe and Canada, though U.S. rivals Procter & Gamble and K-C have yet to roll out a similar product. Davis, in particular, said much of Ultra Plush’s ability to get consumers to trade up—at a time when the general market was sagging—stemmed from a campaign which showed Americans that TP luxury was attainable.

Many shoppers took Quilted Northern up on its offer and jumped to the “super premium” tier. Towle credited advertising from DDB, New York, which depicted a larger-than-life, pampered bathroom experience. One TV spot featured a woman donning an ultra fluffy, white bathrobe while slipping her feet into memory foam, plushed-out slippers. (Even the giant cotton swabs look like soft, cotton candy.) Davis said the campaign, which launched September 2008, was meant to entice consumers to say, “I want what I see” and to go for it.

Sales: $134.8 million
Media Spend: $39 million
Marketers: Patrick Davis and Andrew Towle
Lead Agency: DDB

3. Sundown Naturals Vitamins In the downturn, consumers began taking extra measures to avoid taking sick days. Sundown capitalized on the trend. “We created Sundown Naturals to give today’s consumers a high-quality, natural, yet affordable alternative to high-priced vitamins and supplements,” said bran manager John Frame.

Sales: $56.6 million
Media Spend: N/A
Marketer: John Frame
Lead Agency: In-house

5. Smooth Away Smooth Away, a $10, do-it-yourself at-home hair removal product that uses “miracle micro-crystals [to] painlessly pulverize unwanted hair,” caught IdeaVillage president Anand Khubani’s eyes while chancing upon it at a fair in Del Mar, Calif., in 2008. Khubani had his 10-year-old daughter test it out, and she fell in love with it. His company, IdeaVillage Products, marketed it via print and TV, including an ad in AARP The Magazine.

Sales: $50.7 million
Media Spend: $29 million
Marketer: IdeaVillage
Lead Agency: In-house

6. Pedi Paws Pet owners don’t cut back on discretionary treats and spending on their furry ones in a downturn. One beneficiary of the trend was Telebrands’ Pedi Paws, which purports to “trim a pet’s nails in a gentle manner,” said company founder AJ Khubani. (His brother, Anand “Andy” Khubani, owns IdeaVillage.) While dremel-based pet nail trimmers exist on the market, this one holds and catches all of the unwanted shavings and sells for only $19.99.

Sales: $49.6 millon
Media Spend: $3 milion
Marketer: Telebrands
Lead Agency: Blue Moon

10. K-Y Yours + Mine With the broad unemployment rate still soaring at 16.8 percent, Americans last year spent more time in the home, and er, um, bedroom. Along comes Johnson & Johnson’s K-Y Yours + Mine, the first “his + her intimacy product for couples” which took lovemaking to a new level by providing lubrication for both parties. “One is invigorating for him, the other thrilling for her and when they combine there is an amazing reaction,” according to product copy. (Makes us wonder if another crop of Great Recession “boomers” is going to spring up!)

Sales: $35.3 million
Media Spend: $9 million
Marketer: Susan Tang, group product director
Lead Agency: Mother

P&G’s ‘09 Success Hinged On Value, Affordable Luxury

Despite a difficult year in which consumers and packaged-goods companies alike cut back, Procter & Gamble still managed to occupy five of the top 10 most successful new product launches of 2009.
New P&G products topping the list this year include Tide Total Care, Gillette Venus Embrace, Bounty Extra Soft, Always Infinity and Secret Flawless deodorant.

Of course, it’s not unusual for P&G to dominate the list: Five of the top 10 launches in calendar years 2008, 2007 and 2006, respectively, all came from P&G, per IRI. But 2009 was a notable year since it was such a challenging climate for new launches, especially from branded players.

Though primarily line extensions, much of P&G’s innovation last year centered on providing value and luxury to consumers, albeit at a higher price, said Susan Viamari, editor of IRI’s Times & Trends report, which details the annual rankings. Products like Tide Total Care, for instance, “pushed the value envelope” by allowing consumers to “save money by using Tide to keep clothes looking newer, longer.”

(That, coincidentally, is reminiscent of the product’s tagline: “Helps keep your clothes LIKE NEW—even after 30 washes,” Tide’s Web site says.)

Though priced at a premium compared to Dove and Degree deodorants, new product introductions like Secret Flawless actually offer value in the form of multibenefits to consumers, said Secret brand manager Jason Duff.

Secret Flawless, which sells for $4.20, on average, at retail, combines key attributes such as odor and wetness protection, a clear, smooth and lightweight formula, and self-renewing fragrances—all in one antiperspirant, he said.

“It’s this idea of, ‘Consumers want it all, and we’ll deliver it in a very attractive proposition,’” he said.

Though shoppers cut back, they also exhibited a willingness to spend when innovation and value were both present, the report said.

Bounty Extra Soft, for instance, tapped into parents’ need for a “cloth-like feel in a paper towel,” said brand manager Dave Lee. And Venus Embrace, despite its higher price tag, allowed women to indulge in a “smooth, touchable” shave that lets them get in around “tricky shaving areas like the knees and ankles,” P&G rep Laura Brinker said. All this, at a time when consumers were already paring back from just about every affordable luxury out there.

P&G’s heavy focus on innovation in a downturn is no surprise, given new CEO Bob McDonald’s priority to expand its fabric and beauty care portfolios. But innovation, especially those involved in premium-priced new launches, also comes at a price, which has analysts like Jack Russo of Edward Jones wondering just how much P&G can continue to get consumers to trade up.

“The consumer is [still] pinching pennies right now,” he said, adding that P&G will likely adapt by shifting its new product launches from premium value-based line extensions.