WELCH'S GETS JUICED ABOUT TWO INNOVATIONS

CONCORD, Mass. -- With a one-two punch, Welch's, based here, has introduced two product innovations that the company believes will breathe new life into the frozen juice category.One is a new plastic can for its frozen juice concentrate, already in some stores on the Eastern Seaboard. The second is a frozen fruit smoothie product that was introduced in test markets in Arizona."Frozen juice provides

CONCORD, Mass. -- With a one-two punch, Welch's, based here, has introduced two product innovations that the company believes will breathe new life into the frozen juice category.

One is a new plastic can for its frozen juice concentrate, already in some stores on the Eastern Seaboard. The second is a frozen fruit smoothie product that was introduced in test markets in Arizona.

"Frozen juice provides value. If you can [also] provide convenience, then you've got the best combination," said Randy Papadellis, Welch's vice president of marketing. He added that the new plastic can solves the convenience problem for time-starved consumers, who find it easier to open a chilled or shelf-stable juice than to defrost and mix a frozen one.

The plastic can, touted as the first innovation in frozen juice packaging since the peel strip appeared in 1979, is easy to open and defrosts in the microwave within 60 to 90 seconds. Empty cans can be recycled.

Welch's Fruit Smoothie is described as a thick and frosty blend of fruit and fruit juice. Reminiscent of a juice-bar concoction, the drink is healthy, all natural and fat-free, the company said. Offered in three flavors -- Strawberry Banana, Mixed Berry and Peach Banana -- smoothies are packaged in 11-ounce resealable cups and sold at a suggested retail price of $1.89.

A decline in frozen juice sales in the Northeast had nothing to do with Welch's decision to introduce the all-plastic container in the Northeast first, Papadellis said. "We elected for various internal reasons to go to our Northeast, Pa., plant. We've got real preliminary data to suggest that is it is outperforming the markets where we still have the composite can (cardboard with metal ends)."

Nationwide distribution of the newly packaged juice will be phased in over the next 12 to 18 months, the company said. The containers carry a yellow rectangular label or a burst calling shoppers' attention to the "NEW! Easy-Open Plastic Can." All of Welch's 100% juices have a yellow pull tab, while the juice cocktail drinks have a white one.

Welch's is actually not the first juice company to try a plastic can. Back in mid-1975, Tropicana Products, Inc., Bradenton, Fla., entered the frozen concentrate business with an all-plastic for its orange juice, according to Meghan Parkhurst, manager of product communications for Tropicana. The company stopped using plastic packaging in 1988, she said.

"We know that packaging innovations have a major impact on consumer purchases and buying patterns," said Welch's President and CEO Daniel P. Dillon, in a statement from the company. "Welch's believes the new plastic can will generate more consumer traffic and sales in the frozen case, where business has been trending downward."