MEDICAL MARKETING

From Sugar Free Kool-Aid to Balance Energy Bars, Kraft Foods currently has about 25 brands that are diabetic-friendly. The question is, do diabetics know about them?Kraft has an aggressive plan to make sure they do."Consumer education is a big part of our overall strategy to show that you don't have to sacrifice good food to eat healthy," Robert Simpson, Kraft's customer marketing services manager

From Sugar Free Kool-Aid to Balance Energy Bars, Kraft Foods currently has about 25 brands that are diabetic-friendly. The question is, do diabetics know about them?

Kraft has an aggressive plan to make sure they do.

"Consumer education is a big part of our overall strategy to show that you don't have to sacrifice good food to eat healthy," Robert Simpson, Kraft's customer marketing services manager in Texas, told SN.

Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft is working on its own and with its retail partners to promote select brands as part of a healthful lifestyle for diabetics. Independently, for instance, it operates www.kraftdiabeticchoices.com, which includes information about diabetes, along with easy meal and snack ideas. The site offers tools, calculators, recipes, tips, logs and even a personalized meal planner. Kraft provides similar information to Latinos through a bilingual Web site, www.comidakraft.com/diabetes.

On the retail side, Kraft is working with supermarkets to develop merchandising and support programs for consumers with diabetes.

Kraft's efforts come at a time when 17 million people in the United States, or 6.2% of the population, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, Washington. While an estimated 11.1 million have been diagnosed, about 5.9 million, or one-third, are unaware that they have the disease, according to the ADA.

An additional 16 million may be at risk for "pre-diabetes," a condition that occurs when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough for a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. About 90% to 95% of Americans who are diagnosed with diabetes have Type 2, which results from insulin resistance.

Among other ADA activities, Kraft is a national sponsor of the 2003 ADA America's Walk for Diabetes, and provides recipes on the ADA Web site. Brands that support the ADA effort include Crystal Light, Jell-O Sugar Free, SnackWell's Sugar Free Cookies, Cool Whip Lite, Post Shredded Wheat, Post Grape-Nuts and Post Raisin Bran.

Along with targeting the diabetic population as a whole, Kraft is reaching out to a key portion of the group: Hispanics, who are said to have one of the highest incidence rates of diabetes in the U.S.

About 10.2% of Latinos suffer from the condition. The prevalence of Type 2 is two times higher in Latinos than non-Latino whites, according to the ADA.

One of its most far-reaching efforts in this area came during Diabetes Alert Month in March. Kraft teamed with H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, to market its diabetic-friendly products both on their own and as part of nutritious meal solutions. About 50 H-E-B stores in south Texas participated.

The goal of the program was to show H-E-B shoppers how to maintain good health today and in the future, and to show that they can eat well without sacrificing taste. The program included free diabetes screenings, product sampling, and meal ideas and nutrition tips. While Kraft has created diabetes programs for other retailers as well, the H-E-B market is unique because of its large Hispanic population, according to Simpson.

"H-E-B is sitting in areas unlike other retailers," said Simpson. Hispanics account for anywhere from 50% to 70% of residents in some south Texas communities.

The program included heavy support from H-E-B's in-store pharmacies. In-store, bilingual signage placed throughout the store directed customers to the pharmacies to learn about diabetes management.

Once at an H-E-B pharmacy, customers received a Kraft Healthy Living kit. Developed specifically for H-E-B, the kit contained samples of products including Crystal Light, Jell-O Sugar Free, Balance Energy Bars, Snackwell's Sugar Free Cookies and Sugar Free Kool-Aid.

The kits also had a total of $2 off Kraft's "better-for-you" brands, along with a Smart Solutions brochure. Smart Solutions offers nutritious recipes and product information to help make healthy food choices.

About 5,000 Healthy Living kits were distributed, according to Simpson.

"The response was excellent," Simpson said.

Along with signage, H-E-B supported the program by featuring select Kraft products -- including Crystal Light, Jell-O Sugar Free, and SnackWell's Sugar Free Cookies -- on endcaps in various store locations.

Simpson attributed the success of the program to the growing demand for information about diabetes. Diabetic consumers, he said, are searching for ways to eat healthier.

"Our goal is to show them how to make more balanced meals, and how Kraft can be part of them," he said.

"It's important to show that we care about the community," Simpson said.

H-E-B participated in the program because the communities in which it operates are heavily affected by diabetes, said Debbie Lindsey-Opel, director of public affairs, H-E-B/South Texas.

"Here in south Texas, diabetes is a huge issue, and one that's beginning to affect a younger population," she said. "Type 2 diabetes used to be an issue of adulthood. Now, we're seeing this become a children's issue as well."

While H-E-B educates its customers about diabetes in other ways, such as sponsoring hospital seminars, the Kraft program helped get the message across in a less intimidating way, Lindsey-Opel said.

"People are familiar with our stores, so our stores are less threatening than a clinical environment," she said.

Along with reaching out to its customers, H-E-B's diabetes management efforts are also aimed at helping its employees, which it calls "partners." Upon hearing and seeing the in-store communications about the diabetes screenings and kits, many employees inquired about their own health.

H-E-B is pleased with the results of its work with Kraft, Lindsey-Opel said. The program was unique because, unlike some manufacturer partnerships, H-E-B didn't just relay a message that benefited only the manufacturer.

"This was a message that we wanted to deliver," she said.