Velveeta Shells & Cheese Debuts Biggest Push in 10 Years

Kraft Foods wants to make Velveeta Shells & Cheese the “best side of dinner,” with a new campaign featuring country singer Rodney Atkins.

The effort capitalizes on the popularity of mac ‘n cheese as a side dish and the eat-at-home trend.

Dubbed “Best Side of Dinner,” the campaign is also the first time Kraft is heavily advertising the shelf stable food. Velveeta Shells & Cheese hasn’t had a spokesperson—and one of Atkins’ caliber—in over a decade, Kraft said.

Television ads, now running, are set to a song called “Get Together,” which Atkins wrote for the campaign. One 30-second spot by Euro RSCG, Chicago, opens with a mother preparing and serving up a giant, steaming pan of mac ‘n cheese to her family. “The more we get, the more we get together,” Atkins sings in the spot. It ends with the tagline: “Velveeta Shells & Cheese. The best side of dinner.”

Greg Gallagher, brand manager for Velveeta Shells & Cheese, said the campaign stemmed from research that showed those who consume the product value family and tradition. Though “time-stressed,” mom is “trying to put these balanced meals on the table that she knows she can feel good about and that the whole family will love,” he said.

In its research, the company also found that consumers often referred to mac ‘n cheese—an American favorite—as the “dessert of the dinner plate,” something that the whole family will enjoy, Gallagher said. This insight prompted Kraft to come up with the campaign’s tagline.

Print ads capitalize on that theme. Ads, running in publications like People, Country Living and Cooking with Paula Deen, feature a box of Velveeta Shells & Cheese along with copy that reads: “Makes peace between chicken and green beans, and green beans and six year olds.”

Both print and TV ads direct consumers online to visit and listen to Atkins’ “Get Together” tune. Kraft is offering 100,000 free downloads in mid-May, and it’s also asking consumers to share their “best side of dinner” in an online essay contest. The prize is a private cookout and concert performance by Atkins.

Digital ads are running on, Country Music Television’s Web site, and Agencies Mediavest, Digitas and Weber Shandwick handle media buying, digital and PR duties, respectively.

The company didn’t disclose the campaign’s cost, but Gallagher said it’s the most significant investment behind Velveeta Shells & Cheese in a decade. According to the Nielsen Co., the brand’s measured media spending in 2009 was $5 million, down from $6 million in 2008.

Kraft’s Velveeta Shells & Cheese campaign is timely, given that more consumers are dining at home. According to the NPD Group, 72 percent of all meals came from the home last year, up from 71.5 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, 58 percent of meals consumed last year consisted of a side dish, up from 55 percent in 2004.

Kraft seems to be benefiting from the partnership with Atkins. The volume of posts about the product increased by 14 percent in the past week alone, per Zeta Interactive, an interactive marketing agency in New York. Velveeta Shells & Cheese also surpassed Campbell’s Macaroni & Cheese in tonal buzz. Nestle’s Stouffers Macaroni ‘N Cheese, however, is still the most buzzed about product.

Kraft couldn’t have picked a better spokesperson, said Zeta Interactive CEO Al DiGuido. He added: “It’s all about family values, so the association there is very tight in terms of the product quality and the quality of the individual from a strong family values standpoint.”