WHAT'S NEW

A look at the two sets of inserts in our daily Gannett paper recently indicate that brand extensions are the "thing" of the moment -- and that real basic innovation in new products may be reaching new lows. It is already down from 13.4% of all items introduced in 1989 to 5.1% in 1993.Spic and Span from Procter & Gamble Co. is not only now an "Ultra" version, but the original and pine versions have

A look at the two sets of inserts in our daily Gannett paper recently indicate that brand extensions are the "thing" of the moment -- and that real basic innovation in new products may be reaching new lows. It is already down from 13.4% of all items introduced in 1989 to 5.1% in 1993.

Spic and Span from Procter & Gamble Co. is not only now an "Ultra" version, but the original and pine versions have "bathroom cleaner" variety. All with an "ultra measuring cap" as the screw-top.

Comet, also from P&G, is no longer just in powder form. It comes as a "liquid gel," a "nonabrasive limescale remover," a "bathroom cleanser," a "cleaner with bleach" (in a big size for "big tough jobs;" a trigger sprayer for "quick cleanups"), plus a "comet mildew stain remover."

"Introducing a revolutionary idea in bathroom tissue," James River has Quilted Northern "wet or dry." This is "the only bathroom tissue to work wet or dry. It has two layers quilted together to be extra strong . . . soft enough for total comfort . . . it's the tissue that gives you a choice."

Three new flavors of Hungry Jack from Pillsbury have "mash appeal." These are cheese, sour cream and chives and parsley butter. Who wants plain old mash potatoes anyway?

And from Sunshine Biscuits, "new" Pretzels with the taste of San Francisco sourdough come in "salsa" and "honey mustard pretzel pieces," and "fat-free Bavarian sourdough pretzel" varieties.

In the Cream of Wheat line from Nabisco, "New" Instant Cream of Wheat hot cereal "mix-ins" is "low fat." It comes in apple granola crunch with real apple pieces (in pouches) and separate granola packets -- eight of each in a 12.1-ounce box.

Widespread is available in original, cheddar, light cheddar, garden vegetable and garlic and herb Neufchatel varieties, at least in traditional plastic containers. Apparently it also is not only in your dairy, but in your deli cheese Department as a branded random-weight wedge.

Thomas' English Muffins come in the recently successfully introduced "sandwich size." And now also in regular, wheat, onion and sourdough. All are extensions of the smaller regular versions that many practically demand for breakfast.

Hunt's Juicy Gels, sold next to the Hunt's Snack Pack, which "never needs refrigeration," come in cherry/lemon-lime as new Gel Snacks. These are made with 10% "real fruit juice" and have several additional flavors.

What's my point? Some of these are great ideas! But is it any wonder that retailers are demanding slotting fees for new products? "New" product introductions are up nearly 30% this year. How can we possibly get along without every last one of them?

Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.