Top 10 Food Brands of 2005

Our picks for those trademarks that have withstood the test of time and forged an emotional connection with consumers.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

Share Print Related RSS

"Simply put, a brand is a promise," according to one of the advertising greats, Walter Landor. "By identifying and authenticating a product or service, it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality." If successful, a brand becomes part of the most valuable real estate in the world: a corner of the consumer's mind, says Landor. But building on that corner is more difficult than ever before. It's a brand new day for iconic brands; they can no longer rest on their laurels. They must have focus, be carefully nurtured and have relevance today. Those are the attributes we used to judge our Top 10 Brands.

What a brand is can be confusing, especially to consumers. "In the consumer's mind, there's no difference between a company or product name and a brand name," warns marketing strategist Al Reis of Ries & Ries Consulting, Roswell, Ga.

For example, the brand can be the company - General Mills - manufacturer of the product. Or it can be Betty Crocker, an umbrella brand and a symbol, personality or image of the brand. These days, food marketers drill branding down to the granular level: Betty Crocker SuperMoist Cake Mix is its own General Mills brand.

Whatever the method, the objective is to "brand," or burn, the brand image into the consumer's mind, to associate the image with the product's quality and promise, and to distinguish the brand's point of difference among its competition.

"Any brand in its truest sense is aspirational and never reaches a destination," says Robbie Vorhaus, founder of Vorhaus & Co., Sag Harbor, N.Y. "A successful brand is dynamic and to its core must seek perfection, knowing it's an unattainable goal, and yet believing that with the help of all stakeholders, one day paradise will unfold." And he adds, "This, of course, sounds mystical, somewhat surreal, and yet every great brand is magical and indefinable. Every great brand seems so real, so tangible, and yet when left with the task of defining Coke, McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Heinz or Lipton, it becomes an impossible task because of that incredible, indescribable quality that leaves us using empty clichés like, ‘wonderful,' ‘special,' and ‘world-class.'"

Brand managers nurture a specific product, product line or brand, and if they are world-class, they increase the brand franchise or brand equity (which measures the brands value and investment) for the company. "A brand manager understands his or her job is to nurture the light, not the bulb," says Vorhaus. "The uninspired describe their brand as who they are; versus the conquering brand leader, who in true Zen fashion, camouflages the details and simply sells the benefits their brand fulfills."

When Coca-Cola, which has incredible brand recognition and brand equity, uses its own name for a specific product - a bottle of Coca-Cola - that's corporate branding. When it launches products under the Coca-Cola moniker - Diet Coke - it's described as family branding. When it uses its brand equity to launch a new line - Coca-Cola Zero - the intangible attributes and promise of the Coca-Cola brand, which to consumers means great soft drinks, leverages the brand.

"Vibrant brands experience a kind of intimate relationship with their consumers," says Harvey Hartman, founder, chairman and CEO of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. "But like any relationship, this partnership takes time, effort and patience. Just as nurtured relationships blossom and grow, ones that are ignored can fade and die."

Keeping in mind that brands want a lifelong relationship with consumers, we've chosen our Top 10 for their branding expertise and nurturing - brands that have withstood the test of time and continue to be relevant. Many others deserve to be on the list, so for all the inspired brand managers out there, we salute you.

Betty Crocker: America's first lady of food

A survey published in The New York Times earlier this year to determine which person has the most effect on the buying decisions of the American public found it was Betty Crocker, America's first lady of food. The fact that she's not a real person doesn't seem to matter, nor did it when desperate housewives sent her more than 4,000 letters a day at the height of her popularity. Today, Betty Crocker, the first lady of brands, who resides at Minneapolis-based General Mills, provides recipes, cookbooks and easy mixes for today's busy on-the-go families. Betty's secret: She has connected with generations of American women.

"For almost 85 years, Betty Crocker brands have earned consumers' trust through consistent quality in our products and publications to help them manage their food preparation dilemmas," explains Pam Becker, senior manager of brand public relations. "To do this, Betty Crocker must identify with the consumer and really understand what her key needs are. Then, Betty Crocker must take that need and, using superior technical skill, develop products that work every time under all circumstances to solve that need. In addition to products, the connection is also made by communicating exciting ideas on package, in advertising, publications, and through various other vehicles to our consumers."

Ironically, the first Betty Crocker was Samuel Gale, an advertising executive, who invented the handle in 1921 so he wouldn't have to sign his own name on letters to women seeking baking advice, according to "Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food," by Susan Marks. He chose "Betty" because it sounded cheery, wholesome and folksy, and "Crocker" in honor of William G. Crocker, a retired and much loved director of Washburn Crosby (now General Mills). It wasn't long before Betty grew into a full-blown persona: "a woman who could field questions about a marriage that had gone flat or a bread that refused to rise." Most consumers believed she existed (some still do today); she has even received marriage proposals from male fans looking for the perfect homemaker.

Although other food companies jumped on the bandwagon with branded spokeswomen - including Mary Alden touting Quaker Enriched Flour, Kay Kellogg for Kellogg cereals and Ann Page for A&P stores - they never endeared themselves to consumers as Betty did.

Keeping a brand contemporary is a continuing challenge for General Mills. "Betty Crocker is constantly monitoring consumer needs and stretching for newer and better ways to deliver value to our consumers to meet their ever changing needs," explains Becker. "Be it improvements or new flavors of our existing products such as Betty Crocker SuperMoist cake or Specialty Potatoes, or innovative products such as our new Warm Delights microwave dessert bowls, we're always looking for ways to keep our products relevant for today's consumer."

Why is Betty Crocker still a viable brand? No. 4 in Advertising Age's Top Brands, Betty's identity is aligned with the characteristics of helpfulness, trustworthiness and quality. The products she represents change to accommodate women's current needs, and her makeovers reflect the women of each era.

In 1936, Betty's official portrait was unveiled. She was the perfect composite of the early 20th century American woman, "a fine Nordic brow and shape of skull, a jaw of slightly Slavic resolution, Irish eyes and classic Roman nose." Her latest incarnation in 1996, reflected in a portrait by John Stuart Ingle, is culled from a computer-generated image of 75 diverse women. Reflecting some Latina roots, Betty is self-assured, intelligent, approachable, friendly - a youthful-looking woman who can do it all, have a career, raise a family, and bake a scrumptious cake for dessert with no problem. She is the American woman.

Campbell's Soup: M'm! M'm! Good!

Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., recently was awarded the Grocery Manufacturers Assn,'s CPG award for its superior innovation, creativity and industry collaboration in driving center-store sales and profits with its many brands. Those are precisely the characteristics that have driven Campbell Soup for 136 years.

Campbell, which can claim to be one of the originators of convenience, masterfully nurtures the idea that "soup is good food." Its success can be measured. An average of eight cans are found in every household, and Campbell's soup is purchased more often than any other product in supermarkets nationally - some 70 cans every second.

"Our brands have leadership positions [in the marketplace] - they are known and cherished by consumers and are part of their daily lives," explains John Faulkner, director of brand communications.

Campbell's began with a simple handshake in1869 between fruit merchant Joseph Campbell and an icebox manufacturer named Abraham Anderson. Their new business produced canned tomatoes, vegetables, jellies, soups, condiments and minced meats. In 1897, general manager Arthur Dorrance reluctantly hired his 24-year-old nephew, Dr. John Dorrance, a chemist so determined to be hired he agreed to pay for laboratory equipment out of his own pocket and accept a token salary of just $7.50 per week. Dr. Dorrance quickly made his mark on history with the invention of condensed soup. By eliminating the water in canned soup, he lowered the costs for packaging, shipping, and storage. A 10-oz. can of Campbell's condensed soup sold for a dime, vs. more than 30 cents for a 32-oz. can of soup. The five original varieties were Tomato, Consommé, Vegetable, Chicken and Oxtail. So popular was the concept of condensed soups, that in 1922, the company formally adopted "Soup" as its middle name.

Advertising helped trumpet the benefits of soup to consumers and contributed to Campbell's success, and the company remains one of the leading advertisers in the U.S. In 1904, the cherubic Campbell Kids were introduced in a series of trolley car advertisements as a way to appeal to working mothers. Sales increased 100 percent. The first magazine print ad boasted 21 varieties, each selling for a dime. Campbell's strategy was to advertise primarily in magazines, insisting that its ads be "the first advertisement following said text, on a right hand page facing a full page of text." This strategy was so successful that this advertising location is still known as the "Campbell's soup position." In the ‘30s, Campbell entered into radio sponsorship and TV, using the familiar "M'm! M'm! Good!" jingle to captivate listeners. It still does.

"We nurture our brands by supporting our brands," says Faulkner. "Brands must continually be made relevant to consumers - through promotion, advertising and innovation."

Of course, Campbell's has evolved to fit a changing marketplace. The Campbell name stretches to China, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere, and its products are available in practically every country in the world, including regional varieties like Watercress and Duck-Gizzard Soup in China and a Cream of Chili Poblano soup in Mexico.

And while the company has acquired or launched brands such as Pepperidge Farm, Pace, Prego and V8, the Campbell's brand has only been stretched to tomato juice and Supper Bakes Meal Kits. "Our brands continue to be contemporary because they address the needs and wants of today's consumers," continues Faulkner. "Our Campbell's condensed soup continues to be a wonderful value and with pop-top lids. These soups are more convenient than ever. Our soups continue to be easy to cook with [cooking with soup remains so popular that Americans use more than 440 million cans each year] and consumers can find thousands of recipe ideas at campbellskitchen.com. Our ready-to-serve soups, Campbell's Chunky and Campbell's Select, are more convenient than ever, with the introduction of microwaveable bowls. Campbell's Soup At Hand is the first sippable soup to be designed for on-the-go needs of today's consumer."

When pop artist Andy Warhol, who painted his famous Campbell's Soup cans in 1962, was asked why, he replied, "Because I used to drink [soup]. I had the same lunch every day for 20 years."

Cheerios: Those little letter O's

Since its inception, strong marketing and association with cultural icons allowed Cheerios to achieve brand dominance. Ranked No. 1 in cereal in Brandweek's Superbrands - America's Top 10 Brands, Cheerios has maintained its prominent position in spite of generic brand competition, largely due to its strategic association with American culture and its ability to resonate with young (and young at heart) consumers.

A family favorite for years - one of every 10 boxes of cereal sold in America is a box of Cheerios - its wholesome goodness is perfect for toddlers to adults. Introduced as CheeriOats in 1941 by Minneapolis-based General Mills, the cereal was marketed as "The Breakfast Food You've Always Wanted."

Apparently it was, because it sold a record 1.8 million cases during its first year. Its name was changed to Cheerios (to avoid confusion with a similarly named competitor brand) in 1945, with the slogan: "Cheerios - the first ready-to-eat oat cereal."

"Cheerios has been nurturing families for more than 66 years," Joe Ens, marketing manager, says of the qualities of the brand that connect with consumers. "Cheerios is simple and wholesome and has become part of family traditions. It has great appeal to all ages, from being the ideal first finger food to the only leading cereal proven to lower cholesterol. As a result, Cheerios has incredible breadth of appeal, which has allowed the brand to maintain its No. 1 share position for years."

Cheerios' association with The Lone Ranger was the longest of the Cheerios brand promotions, on radio from 1941 until 1949 and continuing on television into the early 1960s. Encouraging children to request Cheerios cereal by name, the association was one of the most profitable in brand history. I can attest to this successful alliance. I probably ate 10,000 boxes of Cheerios as a kid, helping to make Cheerios the No. 1 selling cereal product in the 1950s, just to get my valuable Lone Ranger decoder ring, silver bullet, and mask.

General Mills continues to nurture the brand. "Nurturing is at the heart of Cheerios," says Ens. "We nurture the brand by ensuring it nurtures consumers. The Cheerios brand has such a deep meaning to consumers that we are able to focus on the higher-level benefits that Cheerios offers. For example, our advertising is very emotional, and it reflects the lives of our consumers and the many ways Cheerios is a part of their lives. Our Spoonfuls of Stories program nurtures families across America each year - not only by providing 5 million children's books free inside boxes of Cheerios, but also through our continued support of First Book, a non-profit dedicated to providing books to children who may have no age-appropriate books of their own."

How does General Mills keep the iconic brand contemporary? "Cheerios remains contemporary by delivering benefits and messages that are meaningful to consumers," explains Ens. "The recent focus on whole grain helps illustrate this. General Mills has led the whole grain focus for food manufacturers, with Cheerios at the foreground. As an excellent source of whole grains, Cheerios is well positioned to deliver meaningful whole grain benefits to consumers that fit perfectly with the recent Food Guide Pyramid recommendations. Cheerios always has been a whole grain cereal, but communicating the whole grain benefit in a meaningful way allowed us to showcase yet another reason Cheerios is a good choice for today's consumer."

Coca-Cola: It's the real thing

"In building a global brand, you should keep your local identity and then use that as a springboard to go global," according to marketing expert Al Ries of Ries & Ries Consulting, Roswell, Ga. And that's what Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has done so successfully.

The Coca-Cola name is the world's most valuable brand, worth approximately $55 billion (as of June 2005), reports Forbes. But its value has declined 4 percent annually over the past four years due to lowered consumption of soda, particularly in the U.S., and the stock has suffered a 9 percent decline. But Coke has overcome many obstacles in its long history, and you can bet it will continue to do so.

The brand is as American as can be. In fact, when the U.S. decided to enter World War II, Coke's patriarch, Robert Woodruff placed his hand on his heart and declared he would "see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents wherever he is and whatever it costs." Of course, it helped that Woodruff's friend, General Dwight Eisenhower, was a great promoter of Coke as well. By the time the war ended, hundreds of thousands of fighting men and women became fans forever of Coca-Cola and its uniquely shaped glass bottle, a visual cue used on today's cans.

One of Coke's strengths is its continued identification with its most memorable slogan from the 1970s – "It's The Real Thing," a powerful message engrained in the American psyche. Named after the coca leaves and kola nuts (and some say cocaine) John Pemberton used to invent it in 1886 in his small Atlanta pharmacy, Coke initially was used as a patent medicine, an elixir said to relieve headaches, sluggishness, indigestion and hangovers. But people loved the taste so much they began to drink it for pleasure. Although occasionally someone claims to "discover" the secret formula, the reality is only a few trusted employees know it.

Woodruff, president of the company from 1923-1954, took the fountain drink to the bottle, recognized the power of advertising and used it to take the Coca-Cola Co. from a regional brand to an American success story and then to an international powerhouse.

Coke learned that consumers had a deep emotional attachment to the soda in 1985. Losing market share to other soda companies, CEO and advertising genius Roberto Goizueta made a bold move. Deciding to deliver something "new and exciting" to consumers, the company not only revamped its label design but the 99-year-old-recipe as well. New Coke met with a firestorm of protest from consumers. Critics called it the biggest marketing blunder ever, but Goizueta returned the original formula just 79 days after it was pulled from the market, renamed it Coca-Cola Classic and the product increased its lead over the competition.

Incidentally, consumers are responsible for the nickname Coke. At first, the company frowned on the practice, fearing loss of identity, but when customers persisted, Coca-Cola registered the nickname too (after winning a Supreme Court decision to do so in 1920).

Today, Coca-Cola has some 400 brands in its portfolio and is a proponent of strong local brands including Inca Kola, a soft drink found in North and South America; Samurai, an energy drink available in Asia; and Vita, an African juice drink. Its products are available in 200 countries, in fact, more than 70 percent of the company's sales are derived from outside of North America. Although Coca-Cola is committed to local markets around the world, the Coca-Cola brand remains a symbol of American ingenuity and consistency, and some 1.3 billion servings are poured each day.

All around the world, a Coke is a Coke. This core value - product quality - makes it a great and lasting brand.

Frito-Lay: Chipping away the competition through innovation

Perhaps no food category is so dominated by a single set of brands. Frito-Lay Inc., Plano, Texas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, is the largest snack food maker in the world. It has a 60 percent share of the U.S. core salty snack food market and a 40 percent share of the global market. It owns more than 15 brands with sales of $100 million or more each, including Cheetos cheese flavored snacks, Cracker Jack candy coated popcorn, Doritos flavored tortilla chips, Fritos corn chips, Lay's potato chips, Lay's Stax potato crisps, Munchies snack mix, Rold Gold pretzels, Ruffles potato chips, Sun Chips multigrain snacks and Tostitos tortilla chips. These brands are sold in more than 120 countries for sales of more than $13 billion annually. Frito-Lay also sells a variety of branded dips.

Frito-Lay brands appeal to an extraordinarily diverse array of consumers. The brand recognizes the ever-diversifying population and strives to deliver authentic flavors and products. Through its world-class innovative research and development, Frito-Lay has developed unique snack products with their own identities and conducts relevant promotions for every consumer. It owns the top five brands in the Salty Snacks category: (in order) Lay's, Doritos, Tostitos, Ruffles and Cheetos, according to Brandweek's Superbrands - America's Top Brands. Frito-Lay brands are hip, contemporary, exciting, unique, they incorporate changing consumer preferences and deliver innovation and consistency.

Frito-Lay has it roots during the height of the Depression. In 1932, Elmer Doolin entered a small San Antonio cafe and purchased a bag of corn chips to eat with his sandwich. For $100, Doolin purchased the recipe for "Doritos," plus19 retail accounts and the manufacturing equipment - a converted hand-operated potato ricer - because the maker of the corn chips was eager to sell his small business and return home to Mexico.

That same year in Nashville, Tenn., Herman W. Lay started a business distributing Gardner's Potato Chips from his Model A Ford. Lay later bought the company that supplied him with product and changed its name to H.W. Lay Co. The Frito Co. and H.W. Lay Co. merged in 1961 to become Frito-Lay Inc., the largest snack selling company in the U.S. On June 8, 1965, shareholders approved the merger of Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola Co., and a huge new company called PepsiCo Inc. was formed.

Frito-Lay's ability to read the public's desire for healthier products pushed it ahead of the pack, garnering good publicity along the way by completing a conversion to zero grams of trans fats in its Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos snack brands. In 2003, well in advance of the USDA's 2006 mandate, Frito-Lay was the first brand to change the Nutrition Facts panel on the back of packaging to include a trans fat content line. Lay's, Ruffles, Fritos and Rold Gold Pretzels always contained zero grams of trans fat, which now makes their entire line of branded snacks zero-trans products.

Hershey's: A recipe for success

Hershey is synonymous with chocolate in the U.S. Most Americans count at least one Hershey product as their favorite. The Hershey Co. is the largest North American manufacturer of both chocolate and non-chocolate confectionery, with revenues over $4 billion, has more than 13,000 employees worldwide and exports products to over 90 countries. It markets such iconic brands as Hershey's, Reese's, Hershey's Kisses, Kit Kat, Almond Joy, Mounds, York, Jolly Rancher, Twizzlers, Ice Breakers and Bubble Yum, as well as newer products such as Swoops and Hershey's S'mores.

From it's very inception, the company produced its own style of chocolate, added products that appeal to large numbers of consumers and packaged them simply - always emphasizing the Hershey brand, which stands for consistency and value.

Hershey's connection with the American Dream cannot be denied. Milton Hershey's rags-to-riches success story resonates with the multicultural generations of America. That determined pioneer's story captures our imagination; someone with a great product that works hard can reap rewards (and have a town named after him).

After building his own milk-processing plant in 1894 and working day and night for three years, Milton Hershey became the first American to perfect a formula of milk, sugar and cocoa for manufacturing milk chocolate - a process that had been a closely guarded secret by the Swiss. It enabled him to mass-produce and distribute milk chocolate candy with a shelf life. What had once been a luxury for the rich was to become an enjoyment that anyone could afford - the Hershey Bar. Always wrapped in a rich, brown wrapper, its color is evocative of the chocolate it contains.

Looking to expand its product line, the company in 1907 began producing a flat-bottomed, conical milk chocolate candy – Hershey's Kisses Chocolates. At first, they were individually wrapped in little squares of silver foil, but in 1921 machine wrapping was introduced. That technology also was used to add the familiar "plume" at the top to signify to consumers that it is a genuine Hershey's Kiss.

Hershey capitalizes on patriotism and loyalty. It's been the official chocolate of the American military since World War I, when Hershey Bars were included in soldiers' rations. During World War II, one billion bars were distributed by American soldiers on foreign shores.

Hershey's primary strategy has been to own the U.S. market - and that strategy has served the confectionery company well. Only 5 percent of its business is outside of the U.S., so its options are boundless. Today, Hershey sells 3.5 billion bars per year, leads the confectionery market with a 30 percent share for its brands, has one of the most effective logistics networks, maintains a cost-efficient value chain, leads in special edition products and stokes a pipeline of new confectionery products, continuously creating buzz.

Kellogg's: They're grrrreat!

There's a global franchise for cereal, and it belongs to Kellogg's. In fact, its brand identity is a synonym for cereal flakes, which it invented by accident in 1894. One of the few successful food businesses that can trace its origin back to a philosophy that urged people to improve their health by changing their eating habits, The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., has nurtured its brand since the 1906 launch of Toasted Corn Flakes cereal.

Cereal is good for you. This simple, clear message has worked very well for the company. If all the Kellogg's cereal boxes consumed since 1906 were placed side-by-side, they would ring the earth more than 3,000 times. Kellogg, the world's leading producer of cereals (more than 40) and convenience foods, enjoyed sales in 2004 of almost $10 billion. Its products are marketed in more than 180 countries around the world, and it employs more than 15,600 people worldwide.

Kellogg flourishes through skillful marketing of good products and by creating and sustaining a valuable brand name. It's a good example of multiple branding; each product is given its own clear identity and defining characteristics but is marketed using the Kellogg's brand name as an umbrella.

Tony the Tiger, Kellogg's most famous spokesman at No. 9 on Advertising Age's Top Brands list, was born in 1951, when advertising genius Leo Burnett was hired to create a campaign for Kellogg's new cereal, Sugar Frosted Flakes.

One of four animated critters created to sell the product to kids, Tony edged out Katy the Kangaroo, Newt the Gnu and Elmo the Elephant to become the sole star of the cereal maker's ad efforts. Originally an orange cat with black stripes and a blue nose, he walked on all fours, but he has undergone extensive cosmetic changes over the decades. When America started heading for health clubs, Tony got a slimmer and more muscular physique and stood upright. In sync with his Baby Boomer following, Tony grew up, married Mama Tony, had a son Tony Jr. and daughter Antoinette, born appropriately in 1974, the Chinese year of the tiger. One thing that's remained constant for much of Tony's life is his voice, provided by the late Thurl Ravenscroft, who gave Tony his trademark growl: "They're grrrreat!"

M&M's: Chocolate is better in color

Candy is dandy, and consumers like to reward themselves with small indulgences. In fact, confectionery sales are booming, particularly at Masterfoods USA, Hackettstown, N.J., a division of Mars Inc. and the home of M&M's, one of the most popular brands in the world.

"We are committed to our core brands: M&M's, Snickers, Starburst and Skittles," explains Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales strategy. "The consumer is our boss; we deliver what they want, and we continue to make products relevant to each generation."

LeBel also explains the importance of collaborative planning. "Our goal is to successfully align customer strategy, brand strategy and consumer demand to win in the marketplace," he says. "And we are always looking for opportunities to create new snacking occasions and leverage other iconic properties to bring new news and excitement to consumers. Specifically, we build national overlays and activation plans surrounding our sponsorship with the NFL and NASCAR, and develop Limited Edition products that are tied to iconic events such as creating dark chocolate M&M's for the release of Star Wars Episode III. This strategy brings continued excitement to our category and builds incremental growth at retail."

While Starburst and Skittles have their fans, M&Ms candies are at the core of Masterfoods' success. The universally loved M&Ms brand characters and the famous slogan, "The milk chocolate melts in your mouth - not in your hand," debuted in TV ads in 1954. Reinforcing brand awareness, the characters appeared on packaging in 1972. In the 1980s, the company expanded internationally, primarily in Europe. The candies became so popular with consumers, the first space shuttle astronauts chose to have M&M's onboard. Utilizing the M&M's characters in 1996, Mars' ad campaign catapulted to the No. 1 position, as rated by <I>USA Today.</I> The characters became a hit with consumers, too - surpassing even the popularity of Mickey Mouse and Bart Simpson, according to Marketing Evaluation Inc.

M&M's branding succeeds because the company uses humor and fun to get us to identify with one of their charming Brand Spokescandies - winners of the Favorite Ad Icons and Slogans contest sponsored the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies last November. Taking a bow were Red, the leader of the pack (or so he thinks); Yellow, the optimist who sees the good in everything; Crispy (he's orange), who longs to be on the endangered species list; Blue, a most confident fellow who likes the ladies, particularly Green, the resident femme fatale. Introduced in 1997, this multifaceted '90s woman has starred in a number of commercials, and she's toured the U.S. promoting her autobiography, "I Melt for No One."

In early 1998, the characters proclaimed themselves the "Official Spokescandies of the New Millennium," a logical and clever connection since "MM" in Roman numerals means 2000. Consumers around the world logged onto M&M's new global website in 2002, and voted in M&M's Global Color Vote, the largest promotion in the brand's 63-year history. Candy lovers from more than 200 countries participated. With purple, pink and aqua on the ballot, fans used their phones, logged onto mms.com, sent in mail and visited kiosks worldwide to cast their votes. Purple won, with 41 percent of the vote.

But there have been dark times too. On New Year's Eve 2004, Red and Yellow were partying with the world's oldest teenager, Dick Clark, and lost their color. The return of their colors two months later was celebrated in Los Angeles, where voices cheered and exclaimed, "Chocolate is better in color."

Oreo: Take ownership of your cookie

In the enviable position of being the No. 1 selling cookie in America since its introduction in 1912, the Oreo, made by Nabisco, East Hanover, N.J., a brand of Kraft Foods, was a true innovation - two chocolate disks with a crème filling in between. Among the first "interactive" foods, Oreos allow, in fact encourage, consumers to be creative when eating them. From dunking them in milk, twisting them apart, eating the creme first or slowly nibbling or quickly gobbling a handful, consumers can take ownership and make eating Oreos into a very individual creative experience.

At the same time, Oreo has nurtured the idea of sharing - sharing a moment to connect with your grandpa, your dad, your best friend. For 93 years, the unique combination of textures and flavors of Oreo appeals to all ages, and the cookie has remained remarkably unchanged for 90 years. An Oreo cookie is 29 percent creme, 71 percent cookie. We're told that in order to keep up with demand, the annual Oreo cookie recipe calls for 18 million pounds of cocoa and 47 million pounds of creme filling.

How did the Oreo get its mysterious name? The people at Nabisco aren't quite sure, but there are four theories. It might derive from the word "or" (meaning gold in French – a color used on early packaging designs). Others claim it comes from the Greek word "Oreo" which means mountain or hill, since the first test batches of cookies were shaped like a baseball mound. Some say the name came about because it just seemed like a nice, melodic combination of sounds with just a few catchy letters and it was easy to pronounce. My favorite theory is that Oreo is a combination of the "re" from "cream" and sandwiching it between the two "o"s in "chocolate" - just like the cookie.

If you think an Oreo is just food, you are mistaken. Preschoolers are encouraged to learn to count as 10 little Oreos are dunked, nibbled and stacked one by one … until there are none (courtesy of "The Oreo Cookie Counting Book" by Sarah Albee). A number of school systems employ Oreo Trivia to teach math. Questions include: If an Oreo cookie is 8 mm in height, how tall is a stack of 10 Oreos? 20 Oreos? All 51 Oreos (there are 51 in the standard 20-oz pack)? Or, if an Oreo cookie has a width of 1.75 inches, what length would we cover if we put all 51 cookies, side by side?

Today, Kraft markets many varieties of Oreo cookies, including Chocolate Creme Oreo, Reduced Fat Oreo, Fudge Covered Oreo, Fudge Mint Covered Oreo, Double Delight Oreo with Peanut Butter 'n Chocolate Creme, Double Delight Oreo with Mint 'n Crème, Double Delight Oreo Coffee 'n Crème, Candy Cane Crème, and Mini Oreo sandwich cookies. Nabisco was insistent that the mini cookies, measuring an inch in diameter and weighing just 1 oz., were exact replicas of regularly sized Oreos, including their ability to be twisted apart. Oreos are used as an ingredient in other foods, and batter-fried Oreos are popular carnival and amusement park foods.

Oreo worldwide is so popular that if every Oreo cookie ever made (more than 490 billion) were stacked on top of each other, the pile would reach to the moon and back more than six times. It was the best selling cookie of the 20th century … it would be difficult at this point to say what might unseat it in this 21st century.

As actor Robert Redford put it so succinctly: "Health food may be good for the conscience, but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better."

Stouffer's: Nothing comes closer to home

Nothing comes closer to home than the frozen meals prepared by Nestlé's Stouffer's brand, headquartered in Solon, Ohio. In fact, they often taste better than what consumers can cook at home. Stouffer's frozen entrées strike just the right balance among great taste, good nutrition and variety - with more than 60 contemporary choices from restaurant-inspired Cafe Classics to Everyday Favorites to Lean Cuisine. Those are some of the sub-brands, but the Stouffer's name is atop each one.

Stouffer's is masterful at focusing on its brand's attributes. If one ingredient has been the key to Stouffer's success, it's the brand's intuition about the American family - its appetites, its eating likes and dislikes, and how to serve them. It's helped Stouffer's grow from a family of four to a family of millions.

It was back in 1922 when Abraham and Mahala Stouffer opened a small coffee shop in Cleveland. Featuring delicious homemade food, the modest enterprise was an immediate success, prompting the couple's sons, Vernon and Gordon, to join the business and develop what became a national chain of restaurants. Vernon, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized the idea of good taste and friendly service. Customers began asking for take-home versions of their favorite meals, so the Stouffers froze popular menu items and sold them at an adjacent retail outlet.

In 1954, the family founded the frozen food operation and introduced Stouffer's brand entrees. As lifestyles changed and demand grew for high-quality convenience foods, Stouffer's built a state-of-the-art production facility in the Cleveland suburb of Solon in 1968. By 1973, the company had attracted the attention of Nestlé SA, which acquired and infused the operation with its own resources.

The Stouffer's brand is synonymous with good taste, so when it decided to enter the low-calorie food category with Lean Cuisine in 1981, it immediately set the taste standard for healthy entrées. Lean Cuisine gained instant credibility with consumers, and the Lean Cuisine line has expanded to include: One Dish Favorites - simple, one-dish meals like ravioli; Café Classics - contemporary, restaurant-inspired meals like sesame chicken; Comfort Classics - homestyle American favorites like herb roasted chicken and meatloaf; Spa Cuisine Classics - spa-chef inspired meals like salmon with basil with 100 percent whole grains; Casual Eating - classic, casual fare like deep dish and French bread pizzas; Dinnertime Selects - larger-sized portions with interesting side dishes; and Skillets - skillet meals like chicken alfredo and beef teriyaki.

Lean Cuisine flaunts the slogan, "It's not just lean, it's cuisine," and checking out the number of its SKUs in major supermarkets proves that consumers agree.

Share Print Reprints Permissions

What are your comments?

You cannot post comments until you have logged in. Login Here.

Comments

No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments