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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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, 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.

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