The 85-year-old Wheaties brand, which saw unit sales decline by 14% during the 12 months ending in mid-June, according to IRI data cited by The New York Times, failed to find long-term success with earlier extensions such as Wheaties Energy Crunch and honey frosted and raisin bran varieties. All have been out of production for several years now.
But Wheaties -- which has a 60% male customer base but has never been male-exclusive in its marketing (its box has featured female athletes many times) -- may have found an approach with legs this time, in the opinion of some branding experts.
Billed as "the first-ever cereal designed specifically to help fuel wins," Fuel's positioning aims to tap into the lucrative, fast-growing "functional" foods area, using star athletes to seal the appeal to men. General Mills developed three formulations of the cereal with the help of sports nutritionist Dr. John Ivy and five athletes: the NFL's Peyton Manning, the NBA's Kevin Garnett, gold medal-winning decathlete Bryan Clay, the MLB's Albert Pujols, and triathlete Hunter Kemper.
Those stars are being featured not just in marketing, but on the initial "collector's edition" version of the cereal's box, available for purchase only online, at Fuel's site (Wheaties.com/evolution). The product will be available in grocery stores nationwide as of January.
The three formulations were tested among "everyday athletes" drawn mainly from among readers of Men's Health, part of a multifaceted partnership with the magazine that also includes sampling at athletic events, advertising in the magazine and editorial mentions.
Fuel offers whole grains, along with more sugar than the flagship formula, 200 calories, 100% of the RDAs for the five B vitamins; five grams of fiber, and calcium and vitamin D. The winning flavor variety is Cinnamon Honey Crunch.
Fuel "takes advantage of the advances in science of the past 85 years," noted Wheaties marketing manager Dan Stangler, in announcing the formulation.
The campaign from Wheaties agency Saatchi and Saatchi focuses on "evolution," and forgoes the iconic "Breakfast of Champions" for the tagline: "Fuel. Win. Evolve."
"This feels like a good move," says branding consultant Kate Newlin, whose clients within the F&B arena have included Kraft, Hershey's and Hickory Farms. "It sits comfortably on the brand's DNA. The '20th Century food science' positioning could fill a white space in the category, creating a platform for successful extensions similar to what Special K did with its successful product extensions for women. Performance foods are also price-insensitive, which is always a good thing. [Fuel] could also provide an aspirational element for 'Wheaties kids' -- the product they want to grow into."
"All in all, this extension shows quite a bit of potential -- there is a built-in authenticity to Wheaties that I think will appeal to this spectrum of consumer," concurs William Lozito, president and chief branding officer for Strategic Name Development, writing in his Name Wire blog. "The major question is whether this spectrum is big enough to significantly bump up sales."
As of this week, Fuel's Web site features a six-part series that chronicles the product's development process. In addition, it offers a "Get Your W's" sweepstakes with chances to win two tickets to the 2010 NBA All-Star Game in Dallas, among other prizes.
While few specifics on the national marketing campaign have been released, Wheaties has confirmed that mobile will play a key role. General Mills used DiDigital to develop a multidimensional SMS campaign with the evolution theme, Stangler told mobilemarketer.com. The mobile efforts include information about the star athletes/brand spokesmen, trivia games, email alerts and nutrition and fitness tips from Men's Health.