OVER THE RAINBOW

Heinz's green ketchup made headlines across the country when it first hit shelves in the fall of 2000. Blue french fries and color-morphing Cheetos would not be too far behind. However, grocers are not yet sold on the rainbow of options in the consumer packaged goods arena.Retailers polled by SN have seen little sustained growth in the multicolored categories after the initial novelty wore off.At

Heinz's green ketchup made headlines across the country when it first hit shelves in the fall of 2000. Blue french fries and color-morphing Cheetos would not be too far behind. However, grocers are not yet sold on the rainbow of options in the consumer packaged goods arena.

Retailers polled by SN have seen little sustained growth in the multicolored categories after the initial novelty wore off.

At Remke's Markets, Covington, Ky., green ketchup is now "just sitting on the shelves," according to Tom Litzler, vice president of merchandising for the chain. Kraft's blue macaroni and cheese appears destined to the same fate, he said.

In January of this year, Heinz ceased production and shipping of the green variant, according to company spokesman Robin Teets. However, Teets stands behind the product's viability. Purple ketchup, introduced in August 2001, and mystery-colored ketchup, available since late spring, are still strong, he added.

"We discontinued green to focus on other colors," Teets said. "We want to keep a couple of colors out there at any given time while still keeping things fresh. This is not to say green [ketchup] won't come back again."

The Carriage House Cos., a Fredonia, N.Y.-based manufacturer of private-label jelly, peanut butter and other grocery products, had plans to produce a green ketchup to compete with Heinz. However, the plan never came to fruition due to lack of interest, according to a company representative.

Indeed, statistics indicate that colored ketchup has not had a substantial effect on the category. According to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, Heinz EZ Squirt brand ketchup -- the colored variety -- captured 0.9% of the total ketchup market share in dollars for the 52-week period ended June 16, with sales of $8.3 million. Traditional Heinz accounts for 57.8 % of total ketchup dollars, with sales of $271 million.

Some industry observers do see the potential for a steady increase in incremental sales. Ideally, according to John Stanton, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, almost all sales of colored grocery products would be incremental.

The children will want purple ketchup, while the adults will stick with red, meaning two open bottles of ketchup per household, he explained. Putting the ketchup in the hands of children should further increase overall consumption because kids are less conservative when it comes to ketchup use, especially in the redesigned EZ Squeeze package, he added.

"Fun sells. Fun adds incremental volume," he said.

Perhaps colored grocery products are simply not fun enough to sustain growing sales. When the colored ketchup first came out, it sold very well, said Nancy Nance, a replenishment buyer at Laurel Grocery Co., London, Ky. "But you can only use so much ketchup," she said.

Jodie Wilkins, the owner of Joe's IGA, Criquitt, Ga., expressed similar views.

"When the colored ketchup first came out, all the kids wanted it and it moved well," Wilkins said. "But now, I sell maybe a case a month.

"It's green. Kids think it's cool. But there are no fireworks; it doesn't taste any different."

Ore-Ida, a subsidiary of Heinz, added color to its frozens products when it introduced five varieties of Funky Fries in May of this year. Some cater to a child's sweet tooth, such as the Cocoa Crisper, a chocolate-flavored alternative. Another option is Kool Blue, a blue version of the traditional fry.

Wilkins has had the Kool Blue french fries in her store for about six weeks, and she sampled them in the deli to create excitement. While it is still too soon to tell, she expects much the same results with blue french fries as she saw with green ketchup.

According to Wilkins, these types of products are not particularly sensitive to promotion. Manufacturers don't spend much in the way of trade dollars on these items, she said.

"You're not going to run these items as your lead item," she said.

Wilkins tries to keep the more colorful grocery products at children's eye level. But, she has not been able to do much in the way of merchandising for Ore-Ida's entry as the frozen french fries are located in coffin cases. However, the store will soon undergo a 7,500-square-foot expansion, and all the frozen foods will be stored in upright cases, Wilkins said, possibly allowing for more creative display techniques.

Development and marketing teams in the CPG business are always trying to find the next big thing, and rightly so. Innovation remains the foundation of real growth throughout the industry. However, some retailers feel CPG companies might be wise to exercise some restraint.

Remke's Litzler said many new products do little more than take up valuable space, resulting in out-of-stocks.

"I have to fit all of these products into the existing space, and this ends up taking room away from the core product," Litzler said. "Just because a company introduces 12 different varieties of corn chip doesn't mean I have room for 12 varieties."

Still, missing out on the next big hit is too great a chance to take, and Litzler will continue to bring these products in, despite a dubious history.

The snack category is particularly prone to this problem, he said. In March of 2001, Frito-Lay introduced Cheetos Mystery Colorz in an attempt to add color to the snack aisle. The product has the same cheese flavor as traditional Cheetos, and even looks like a standard orange chip at first glance. However, the product turns either blue or green upon being eaten, which will be evident on the snacker's tongue.

Jerry Ward, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Mad Butcher, Pine Bluff, Ark., stocks the chips but characterized the product's movement as very slow.

Another category that has lately seen a burst of innovation is the soft-drink category. Over the past year, manufacturers have been churning out novel takes on the familiar classics at a rapid clip, including Vanilla Coke and Pepsi Twist. Colors have not been left out of the mix.

One of the more successful recent soft-drink launches was Mountain Dew Code Red, a red beverage aimed at today's extreme youth culture.

The latest addition to the color spectrum is Pepsi Blue. The berry-flavored cola, introduced late last month, is also aimed at the young adult audience. Naturally, the drink is blue.

While most retailers do not anticipate a multicolored revolution, opinion is divided over the longevity of the colored food trend. The impact on individual-store sales may be negligible, but some feel CPG companies will continue to experiment along these lines. While Laurel Grocery's Nance said she has not been particularly impressed with the performance of colored grocery products in her stores, she expects to see more of them in the future.

"It's just a fad," said Wilkins of Joe's IGA. "Most people revert back to the original color fairly quickly."

Patti Councill, a spokeswoman for A&P, Montvale, N.J., said it is too soon to call. However, the featured item at her stores at press time was none other than Pepsi Blue.