Pop-Tarts, meet pretzel.
The toaster pastry brand, owned by Kellogg’s, is rolling out its newest product, a Pop-Tarts and pretzel hybrid that comes with either chocolate or cinnamon sugar fillings. Pop-Tarts Pretzel is the company’s first attempt at mixing sweet and salty flavors, and Philipp Schaffer, senior director of marketing at Pop-Tarts, has deemed it “one of the biggest product innovations in our brand’s history.”
So big, in fact, that Pop-Tarts has invested in its first-ever Super Bowl commercial to promote it. The infomercial-themed 30-second spot, which stars Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, is scheduled to air near the end of the second quarter.
It’s a major moment for a storied American food brand: Pop-Tarts has been around since the early ‘60s and, by the main metric that counts, has done quite well. In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that sales had increased for 32 years straight. Data from Euromonitor International indicates that, in terms of retail value, Pop-Tarts has dominated the pastry category for the past five years. Last year, Pop-Tarts’ annual sales increased 11% to hit $845 million, according to numbers from market research firm IRI.
In conversation with Adweek, Schaffer explained the process of how Pop-Tarts ultimately decides to debut a new flavor— which often begins with a tweet from an anonymous person on the internet.
“There’s no point in creating something in the ivory tower that no one is interested in,” he said. “We like to listen to our consumers.”
According to Schaffer, every time someone suggests a new flavor combination on Facebook or Twitter—whether earnestly or in jest—the company takes note. And it receives its fair share of ideas without having to ask.
“Do one with peanut butter,” someone tweeted at @PopTartsUS, the brand’s Twitter account. “Put cheese inside, and, no joke, I’d buy that!” tweeted someone else. “I’d buy lots of that!”
Other concepts floating around on Pop-Tarts’ various social platforms: Frosted Bud Light, Frosted Baked Beans, Frosted Ranch Dressing, Frosted Popeyes Chicken Sandwich, Frosted Orange Juice & Toothpaste, and so on.
“Trust me, none of this stays unread,” Schaffer said. “We take every impulse we get from our consumers very seriously.”
Once the company’s R&D department deems a new flavor idea worthy enough to pursue, testing begins. Pop-Tarts makes samples on a small scale, but “more than a baking tray,” Schaffer said. Among the 34,000 Kellogg’s employees exist internal panels of people willing to try the food and provide feedback. The sample sizes are significant, according to Schaffer, and include both heavy and light consumers of Pop-Tarts.
“Part of my job is tasting a lot of funky things,” he said.
While Schaffer didn’t disclose the number of ideas that make it to this stage in the process, he stressed that even fewer make it to the next round. If a concept advances past the internal panel, Pop-Tarts examines industry-wide sales data and trend reports to see if it makes sense to go all in and put the new product on store shelves nationwide.
One recent example of a new flavor that moved from social media post to final product: Pop-Tarts Fruit Loops, which came out earlier this year. As Schaffer put it, consumers inspire the idea and convince the team at Pop-Tarts that “one plus one can equal three.”
The brand releases somewhere between eight and 15 new flavors per year, Schaffer said, and some last longer than others.
“We always want to introduce an all-time favorite, but we also have to acknowledge that sometimes trends or taste preferences move on, and we have to be agile enough to react accordingly,” he said.
At present, Pop-Tarts’ official site lists 31 different products, from Frosted Raspberry to Confetti Cupcake to bite-sized Frosted Chocolate Fudge. Some flavors that appeared on Pop-Tarts’ Instagram account in 2019, but don’t appear on its official website today, include Spider-Man Spidey Berry, Red White and Blueberry and Frosted Pumpkin Pie.
“I want to do something that matters to the U.S. population, and that’s why I closely listen to what our consumers have to say,” Schaffer said. “We have a very, very full hopper of ideas.”
So, is Schaffer confident that the new Pop-Tarts Pretzel—which also originated from online consumer suggestions—will sell?
“Entering new waters is always a bit scary,” he admitted, “but all the testing I’ve described to you looked very promising.”
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