INCONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

Brach's California Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins, 14-oz. bag

E. J. Brach Corporation

WE ALL KNOW by now that packaging is at least as important as the actual product in today's consumer marketplace, but that lesson was driven home for me with unusual clarity when I recently strolled down the candy aisle of a North Carolina supermarket and found myself staring at two products sitting side-by-side on the shelf: Brach's Chocolate Covered Raisins and, in a much flashier package, Brach's California Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins.

I was struck by the similarity of these two product names both appearing under the Brach's umbrella, so I took a closer look. They appeared to be identical, right down to the bar-code number -- the only differences between them were the slight variation in the product names and the very distinct package designs, the snazzier of which was adorned with a burst that read, "New Look!"

It's nothing new for a product or its packaging to be revamped, of course, but I was intrigued by Brach's marketing strategy. Most bursts are product-oriented, with messages like, "More Cleaning Power!" or "Improved Taste!" But Brach's had neither improved their chocolate-covered raisins nor claimed to have done so -- they were simply drawing attention to their "new look." It amounted to a surprisingly frank admission that the package is more important than the product.

As you might imagine, Brach's Marketing Director Andy Jacobs didn't quite see it that way, although he confirmed that packaging is particularly crucial in the candy biz. "Confections is one of the highest impulse-purchase categories in the grocery store," he explained to me. "Packaging that's bright, vibrant, and exciting will help draw the consumer in."

Well, sure. But what does it mean when a company markets its wrapper more actively than the product inside, as Brach's is doing here? Jacobs, sensing where I was going with this, pointed out that even the best package can't sell lousy merchandise (the right thing to tell a reporter, although I suspect he believes otherwise) and explained that the key to the raisins' makeover is not the package but the candy's name change, which soft-peddles "Brach's" and plays up the new "California Raisins" designation.

"People don't go to the store to buy Brach's," said Jacobs, "just like they don't go there to buy, say, General Mills--they're going to buy Cheerios, they're going to buy Snickers. So we've de-emphasized 'Brach's' and are now developing brands, like 'California Raisins.'" He said the packaging alteration, part of a Brach's-wide design overhaul that began in early 1995, is intended to highlight the product's new identity. "I can try to teach the consumer my brand name through these package bursts, by saying I have a 'new look,'" said Jacobs. It's sort of like changing your kid's name from Elmer to Bob so that everyone will take him more seriously, and then buying him some new clothes just to make sure.

Jacobs said Brach's overall sales are up 42 percent since the new brand-name program was launched, although the company still trails Hershey's, M&M/Mars, and Nestle in the highly competitive confections sweepstakes. As for the raisins, Jacobs said consumers preferred the Brach's product by 2-1 over Nestle's more popular Raisinettes in a 1995 blind taste test. Of course, the key word there is blind. If Jacobs could just have a sightless market, his "new look" would be unnecessary, not to mention irrelevant. (E. J. Brach Corporation, 401 N. Cicero, Chicago, IL 60644)(Paul Lukas) CP

Inconspicuous Consumption is an occasional feature which examines a variety of products and services--some unusual, many exceedingly ordinary, but all worthy of close inspection.

 
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