TRYING'S BELIEVING

Gerber Products Co. secured a major presence in 1,700 Wal-Mart Stores units last month to sample Gerber Organic, a new line of 26 items, including whole grain cereals, baby food, juice and toddler fruits.Likewise, Coca-Cola North America is conducting sampling throughout this month in more than 2,500 stores to introduce consumers to the newly revamped Nestea ready-to-drink iced tea line. Nestea is

Gerber Products Co. secured a major presence in 1,700 Wal-Mart Stores units last month to sample Gerber Organic, a new line of 26 items, including whole grain cereals, baby food, juice and toddler fruits.

Likewise, Coca-Cola North America is conducting sampling throughout this month in more than 2,500 stores to introduce consumers to the newly revamped Nestea ready-to-drink iced tea line. Nestea is a product of Beverage Partners Worldwide, a joint venture between the Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, and NestlT, Vevey, Switzerland.

Both events demonstrate that while sampling is an integral part of most new product introductions, it plays an even greater promotional role when a company creates a new brand or repositions one already in the market.

And that's happening more and more as marketers invest heavily in research and development and innovation. Kurt Schmidt, Gerber's president and chief executive officer, is quick to stress the significance of the new Gerber Organic brand.

"Next to our plastic containers, this is the biggest innovation for us in years," Schmidt told SN. He described the line as part of an accelerated innovation effort at the company.

The Gerber/Wal-Mart event ran for several weekends last month. Another campaign is scheduled for September in both Wal-Mart and Albertsons.

Christian Colo, product manager for Gerber Organic, said sampling is critical in getting the word out about Gerber's expansion in the organics category.

"We want moms to know that we now have a full line of organics," Colo told SN.

Parsippany, N.J.-based Gerber, part of Novartis' consumer health division, used the Wal-Mart program to sample and distribute product information for Gerber Organic Mini Fruits, freeze-dried strawberries and apples that provide a full serving of fruit. The Mini Fruits were chosen because they're conducive to sampling. Likewise, according to Colo, toddlers have five or six eating occasions each day, demonstrating the need for healthy snacks.

Gerber Organic will soon take the place of Tender Harvest, a line of organic baby food Gerber launched in 1997. Gerber Organic differs from Tender Harvest in terms of its scope: Tender Harvest offered only "1st," "2nd" and "3rd" baby food, while Gerber Organic spans not only purees, but also cereals, juices and toddler items.

The company opted to use the Gerber Organic name over Tender Harvest so that it could leverage the strength of the Gerber brand. Research shows that 80% of consumers prefer buying an organic brand from a company they know and trust, according to Colo.

"Gerber is clearly a brand consumers know," he stressed.

Tender Harvest will be phased out over the next six to eight months, according to Colo. Until then, the Tender Harvest name will be co-located with Gerber Organic on select packaging.

REPOSITION TO GREEN

While Gerber is relying on a major sampling effort to introduce a new brand, other companies are expanding the reach of the promotional tool for brand repositioning. Take Nestea, which is involved in a major sampling event to promote the makeover of its ready-to-drink iced tea product line.

The Nestea brand will no longer feature Nestea Cool. In its place, the line will include the introduction of green teas, the return of the classic Nestea brand, and new Nestea lemon and diet lemon formulas, which outperformed Nestea Cool in consumer taste tests.

The tests are geared mostly to adults ages 35 and up who are in search of a refreshing beverage that is not high in caffeine and has healthy benefits. Green tea meets those needs due to its antioxidant properties. They are available in peach and diet peach flavors.

National sampling will be conducted in select divisions of retailers, including Stop & Shop, Kroger, Winn-Dixie, Hy-Vee and H.E. Butt Grocery. It will include the lemon and diet lemon Nestea flavors, but will focus mostly on the green teas, focusing on their health attributes, said Abby Berens, associate brand manager, Nestea.

Berens said Nestea values sampling because it gives stores a chance to introduce consumers to the green tea flavor profile.

"Some people may be committed to black tea or feel that green tea is too powerful," Berens said. "We want to show them how good our green teas are."

Another advantage is that it helps reintroduce former consumers to the new Nestea brand.

"Sampling is important because we want consumers who may have left the franchise to try the new products and come back to the brand. Plus, we want to bring in new consumers," she said.

Until now, most of the brand's promotional efforts were focused on the Northeast and Southeast, which account for 60% of Nestea's business.

In contrast, Berens said the new portfolio will be promoted nationally.

"This is the most activity that we've had in several years," Berens said.

Pass the Fries

PARSIPPANY, N.J. - Gerber Products Co. is rolling out not only its new Gerber Organic brand, but also new research about the state of babies' eating habits.

And the picture isn't pretty: A child's innate ability to regulate caloric intake appears to be declining from infancy to toddlerhood, perhaps as a result of parents who have a "clean your plate" mentality and don't understand hunger and fullness cues, according to a 2006 update to Gerber's 2003 Feeding Infants & Toddlers Study.

Among other results:

Toddlers are getting too much sodium, but too little potassium.

Babies are eating jumbo portions of french fries, with serving sizes two times larger than that of other cooked vegetables. According to the original findings, 20% of toddlers ages 19 to 24 months consumed french fries at least once a day.

By 15 to 18 months, toddlers consume more desserts and candy than fruit.