Nabisco gives you more ways to love the No. 1 cookie, Oreo

August 10, 1994|By Universal Press Syndicate

Since its creation in 1912, "Oreo" always meant one thing: cookie.

Now, it means a lot more. You can find the little sandwich cookie in products on the ice cream aisle, the baking aisle and even the cereal aisle.

Spinoffs of existing products -- known as "line extensions" in food industry lingo -- help manufacturers reduce the risk involved in introducing new products. Consumers who are already familiar with a product constitute a ready-made market.

"Launching a new product takes millions of dollars," says Nabisco spokeswoman Ann Smith. "Developing the concept, the technology to make it, then packaging, then marketing and advertising, putting it on the shelf -- with no guarantee it'll be a success.

"It's safer when the consumer recognizes the brand," she says.

No problem there: Oreo is the No. 1 cookie in the country.

"It's a taste people know and love," Ms. Smith says. "When they see Oreo crumbs or pie crust, they think, 'Oh, I can get my favorite cookie flavor in a pie crust.' It has what we call 'equity,' a product with a strong heritage."

So now you can buy Oreos double-stuffed, or with holiday-color filling, or fudge-covered. Ice cream fans can find Oreo ice cream cones, and crumbled Oreos to go on top.

Oreo is all over the baking aisle, too: as an ingredient (Oreo pie crust) or in mix form (Oreo dessert bars, Oreo frosting).

Oreo doesn't stop there -- it's invading the "health" section, too. A few weeks ago Nabisco introduced a reduced-fat Oreo in parts of the country, and this spring an Oreo granola bar.

"When we do a line extension of a cookie, we go into areas where it makes sense and consumers will take to it," Ms. Smith says. "Granola bars are popular as a snack, as well as a breakfast food."

Not every venture is a success: No longer on the market are Oreo ice cream and Mini Oreos -- these may reappear in a reduced-fat version.

If Oreos are one of the most "extended" items in the supermarket, Heath Bars were one of the first to reach into other products, says Barb Roth, a spokeswoman for Leaf Specialty, Heath's parent company.

"Heath was probably the first in a big way," she says. "We've been in it for a long time.

"We were a candy and ice cream company; our foundation was ice cream as well as straight confection," she says. "Our product mixes very well, especially with ice cream."

From the original Heath toffee bar came a candy spinoff called Heath Sensations, which are tiny Heath bites. Heath has two products on the baking aisle: chocolate-covered Heath bits, and Bits of Brickle, bits of toffee without chocolate.

Heath licenses its name to a variety of vendors, everyone from Dairy Queen for its Blizzard drink to ice cream companies such as Ben & Jerry's for its chunky ice cream products. Nestle makes a Heath ice cream bar, Pillsbury makes a Heath frosting, and cookie companies such as Delicious and Entenmann's add Heath Bar candy to their cookies.

Line extensions are turning up in the strangest places. Reese's, known originally for its Peanut Butter cups, is infiltrating the cereal aisle with Reese's Peanut Butter Puffs, a corn puff made with Reese's peanut butter and Hershey's cocoa.

"Any [food] category is fair game," says Ms. Smith, "but it has to make sense. We wouldn't do an Oreo stuffing, for example, but we did do a Ritz [cracker] stuffing. That made sense.

Reese's has a history of line extensions dating back to the mid-'70s with its baking chips and Reese's Pieces peanut butter candies (used to wrenching effect in the 1982 film "E.T."). Reese's peanut butter appeared in 1992. Within the last few months, Reese's has sprouted all over the supermarket with the Puffs cereal; Candy Bar Sprinkles, an ice cream topping; and Nutrageous, a new candy bar that combines chocolate, peanuts, Reese's peanut butter and caramel.

Reese scored five on the supermarket tally of line extensions.

Cookies and snacks seem to be the most popular category for line extensions, with names like Pepperidge Farms' Milano cookies, Nabisco's Triscuit crackers and Ruffles potato chips multiplying into numerous flavors and versions.

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