A snappy television commercial for Claussen pickles has left a sour taste in the mouth of the industry leader, Vlasic Foods Inc.
The Claussen commercial uses a graphic test to demonstrate the crispness of its pickles. In the ad, Claussen pickles break crisply in two when bent. In contrast, the less crisp rivals, which are unidentified, simply bend under pressure.
The commercial does not make clear why anyone would want to bend a pickle in the first place, or what the tensile strength of pickles has to do with taste.
Nonetheless, Vlasic has cried foul and complained to a national advertising industry tribunal that the Claussen spot is unfair and misleading.
Vlasic, part of Campbell Soup Co., dominates the $623 million pickle business overall, but Claussen, part of the Philip Morris empire, has stronger sales in the smaller, refrigerated area of the business.
Last year, Vlasic's refrigerated sales dropped 20 percent, to $15.2 million, while Claussen gained 11 percent, to $80.5 million, according to Information Resources Inc., a market research firm in Chicago.
Claussen has hired high-priced legal talent to defend its right to bend pickles on television.
Ethan Horwitz, who charges $275 to $350 an hour for his legal counsel, spent the better part of two days breaking and bending pickles.