SPEAR CHANGE

Retailers have been finding themselves in a pickle trying to keep abreast of the latest developments in preserved cukes.Led by more hot varieties and the immensely popular Vlasic Sandwich Stackers from Campbell Soup Co., the pickle category has reversed a downward trend and undergone a resurgence over the past year. Scores of new products are making their way to store shelves.Richard Hentschel, executive

Retailers have been finding themselves in a pickle trying to keep abreast of the latest developments in preserved cukes.

Led by more hot varieties and the immensely popular Vlasic Sandwich Stackers from Campbell Soup Co., the pickle category has reversed a downward trend and undergone a resurgence over the past year. Scores of new products are making their way to store shelves.

Richard Hentschel, executive vice president of Pickle Packers International, a St. Charles, Ill.-based trade group, explains that while pickle tastes vary from one region of the country to another, sandwich pickles and hotter varieties are gaining popularity everywhere.

"We're seeing an increase in pickled pepper sales. We feel that is based on Southwest influences and trends. A few packers have begun to incorporate a little heat. For example, there is now a zesty bread and butter pickle on the market. It tastes like a bread and butter, but it leaves a slight tingle in the mouth," he said.

New product offerings from major manufacturers include:

· Vlasic Foods, Camden, N.J., a division of Campbell Soup Co., is hoping to follow up on the success of Sandwich Stackers with Vlasic Snack'mms, which are currently in test market. Snack'mms are mini snacking pickles in zesty bread and butter, kosher dill and zesty dill varieties.

· H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, has replaced its kosher dill pickles with a new line called Heinz Kosher Classics. Available in baby kosher dills, kosher dill spears and whole kosher dills, the line has a new recipe that uses lots of garlic, dill and pickling spices that are left in the jar for added flavor.

"The flavor profile of these new Kosher Classics certainly rivals what consumers will find in the refrigerated section, but it is not a refrigerated pickle," said Richard Moritz, product manager of retail marketing at H.J. Heinz.

Heinz is also planning to introduce a product similar to Sandwich Stackers shortly, and has actively become involved in category management in an effort to help retailers build and manage the category as a whole.

· Steinfeld's Products Co., Portland, Ore., has just introduced fresh-pack, shelf-stable Steinfeld's Sandwich Builders in Kosher dills, Polish dills, Zesty dills and Bread-N-Butter sweets flavors. They're available in the Oregon, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and west Texas markets.

· B&G Food Products, Roseland, N.J., a regional manufacturer in the Northeast that until recently was known as Bloch & Guggenheimer, is seeking to expand the pickle category through new products like B&G Salsa Fiesta. B&G is also introducing a marinated artichoke and a fire-roasted jalapeno pepper, along with several other pickled pepper products. By the end of the year B&G plans to introduce a shelf-stable kosher dill half and is also contemplating offering a sandwich sliced product.

· Mount Olive Pickle Co., conveniently located on the corner of Pickle and Vine in Mount Olive, N.C., is introducing Mt. Olive Sandwich Stuffer pickles in kosher dill and bread and butter varieties in time for the summer pickle season. Sandwich Stuffers will be part of a major outdoor billboard advertising campaign throughout the Southeast.