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Search for Novelty in Household Items

February 13, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

A survey of food and household items making their market debut in 1985 found that a record total of more than 2,200 were introduced, according to New Product News, a monthly newsletter which monitors the ongoing battle for supermarket shelf space.

The themes that were predominant throughout 1985 are still present this year. Three popular recipes for innovation include the use of fruit scents and flavors in virtually all categories, affixing the word gourmet to a label whether warranted or not, and reducing fat, sodium or cholesterol. Even so, the search for novelty is taking a different twist in 1986 and seems to have embraced the unusual or bizarre.

Certainly, one such item that will require a great deal of consumer education is snail eggs. A French entrepreneur is now marketing a 1 3/4-ounce serving of these tiny oddities for a substantial $39, a food industry journal reports. The logic behind this venture is that those who savor escargot are sure to enjoy the gastropod's eggs.

What promises to be a dental hygienist's dream is a recently released item by Earth Harvest of Cumberland, Md. The firm is offering a Teabaco Snuff, apparently in an effort to appeal to that segment of the population which loves snuff but finds tobacco objectionable. Teabaco is made from Assam seed tea and then flavored with chewing gum oil. According to New Product News, the item is made by brewing the tea leaves, which eliminates the tea taste and the caffeine. The leaves are then pressed and the oil added for flavoring.

Also on the potentially tooth-threatening front, is an offer from Yuppie Gourmet, Inc., of Racine, Wis. In probably the first-ever pairing of confections with tubers, the company is presenting Chips Au Chocolat, described as a "rich, dark chocolate, cloaking a crisp, rippled potato chip." Manufacturing a chocolate-covered chip was not easy. The firm had to develop its own brand of potato chip and then tested more than 19 blends of various chocolates before settling on just the right combination. Yuppie Gourmet is confident of its product's appeal and "promises a rewarding return in terms of taste and quality."

In an effort to broaden the olive's somewhat limited appeal, Early California Foods has called upon the services of the seafood world. The City of Industry-based firm is reported to be testing Tuna Snack Olives. In what may cause a revolution in martinis, the company stuffs green manzanilla olives with white tuna. There are no reports yet of any rumbling from disenfranchised pimiento farmers.

Finally, there's good news for dogs with a weight problem. Champion Valley Farms, a division of Campbell Soup Co., is test marketing Recipe Half-A-Can Dog Food. This petite, seven-ounce serving of canine chow comes in a variety of flavors including turkey, liver and hearty meat.

New Explanations--A New York-based research firm offers some insight on the current explosion of new products. Frost & Sullivan, Inc., having recently studied the phenomena, states that many companies use the new product device as an easy way of ensuring continuing sales growth. There is also a large percentage of activity aimed at riding the fickle wave of changing life styles and households.

"The most active categories, not surprisingly, are those that appeal to the consumers' need for convenience, products that offer less additives and better packaging, compliment the new 'grazing' (snacking) life style, and carry a healthy image," the firm reported.

Nevertheless, Frost & Sullivan predict a dramatic end to this wholesale innovation.

"The boom days are soon to end; the number of new products are expected to stabilize or decline in the coming years. High cost for development and advertising, fierce competition for shelf space, and changes in the food industry itself--i.e., mergers and acquisitions--are chief among the reasons for this (impending) slowdown," the research firm states.

Palm-Sized Cuisine--When the last issue of Cuisine magazine appeared in December, 1984, many in the publishing industry pointed to the closing as an indication that the national food magazines had a limited market and only a few could possibly hope to be profitable. In fact, some longstanding entries in the field, such as Gourmet and Food & Wine, were accused of drifting away from a recipe-based format.

It was presumed that most cooking-related information would then be found in the so-called woman's magazine field in such publications as Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Woman's Day.

Well, in a move that proves the analysts decidedly wrong, Triangle Publications headed by Walter H. Annenberg, recently unveiled its Good Food magazine. The modestly titled publication is revolutionary in format. The pint-size look is identical to that of Triangle's TV Guide. Like its sister publication, Good Food will be sold primarily at supermarket check-out stands. It carries a $1 cover price.

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