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

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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.

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