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Clorox in the Kitchen and Milk in the Bathroom

February 04, 1993|CAROLINE E. MAYER | THE WASHINGTON POST

Age-old food products don't die or fade away. They just turn up in new and often unexpected ways.

Consider applesauce. Once simply a side dish, this fruit puree is now being touted as the answer to lowering the fat in desserts. Mott's, the nation's largest applesauce maker, is promoting it as a replacement for butter, shortening or oil in cakes, muffins and cookies.

Then there's the ever-popular Oreo, made by Nabisco. Once just a cookie, then something to be added to ice cream, the chocolate-sandwich cookie is now the primary ingredient in a "no-fuss," ready-to-fill pie crust.

Meanwhile, Heinz is seeking to breathe fresh air into its 175-year-old distilled vinegar brand by introducing the company's first non-food product: All Natural Cleaning Vinegar.

Similarly, Morton Salt is trying to demonstrate that its oft-beleaguered seasoning can be sprinkled on more than French fries. In recent magazine advertisements Morton suggests using salt as an air freshener, rust stripper, food-stain remover -- even as a preventive for runs and snags in pantyhose.

For years, companies have expanded their markets by introducing new flavors and product sizes. But nowadays food firms are trying to create secondary uses for the products, catering to consumer concerns about nutrition, food safety and convenience.

"Two years ago, we happened upon the use of applesauce to replace fat in baking," says Ellen Turner, Mott's director of marketing. The company immediately started testing recipes substituting applesauce for oil or butter, almost on a cup-for-cup basis.

Successful, Mott's then launched an advertising campaign and set up a toll-free telephone line to give hints and recipes. Not quite 1 year old, the 800 number has already logged more than 1 million calls.

For the past year, Dannon has been actively promoting yogurt as a healthful replacement for sour cream, mayonnaise, milk and cream cheese. "People who are familiar with food have known that for years, but there's a whole generation out there who doesn't," says Becky Ryan, senior product manager of Dannon Yogurt.

After the same health-conscious audience is the National Dairy Board, which, after seeing consumption of whole milk and butter drop, now is urging consumers to try low-fat dairy products in a number of different ways. Currently the organization is promoting a recipe that uses low-fat cottage cheese instead of egg yolks to create low-cholesterol, "No-Guilt Brownies."

Taking advantage of the secondary uses of basic food products is something Arm & Hammer has been doing for years. Knowing that consumers have used baking soda as a deodorizer, household cleanser and denture cleaner, the 140-year-old company has gone even further, developing detergent, carpet cleaner, toothpaste and cat litter, all containing baking soda.

"It's so expensive to introduce a new product today," notes Martin Friedman, editor of the monthly New Product News. "It's much cheaper to find a new use for an old product, one with an established brand name."

That's why Friedman, in his predictions for 1993, forecast the advent of two new baking products: applesauce and prune puree (also found to be a good fat substitute) packaged in small, easy-to-use, and perhaps pre-measured, containers.

Most of the time, says Katie Feifer, vice president and group research director for the Chicago advertising firm of Leo Burnett, the ideas for new product uses come from consumers who are already using the product in a way not originally intended.

That's what prompted Nabisco to make its Oreo pie crust. "People have been making pie crusts with (these cookies) for many years, so we decided to make it more convenient for them," says Ann Smith, manager of product communication.

Similarly, it was Heinz's discovery that 39% of all U.S. households use vinegar for cleaning that prompted the company to create its Cleaning Vinegar. The product is 50% stronger than regular vinegar in acidity, but it is made with a lemon fragrance to cut the pungent odor that many consumers find offensive.

The Clorox Co., whose primary product has been relegated to the laundry room until recently, also has a comparatively new gimmick. Two years ago it ran ads prodding mothers to disinfect their children's toys in a solution of Clorox and water.

Now the company suggests in ads, "Start your next meal with Clorox bleach. It may not be the first thing you think of for dinner, but with salmonella on the rise, Clorox is a great way to keep a good meal healthy." The ad explains two different Clorox/water formulas for the kitchen -- one to disinfect utensils and cooking surfaces, the other to get rid of coffee and other food stains.

Developing new uses for an old product is especially critical when consumer use of the product declines. That's partly what prompted Morton Salt to launch its "Household Hints" promotion.

It's also the reason why the National Dairy Board is conducting research into new uses for milk fat. "We've found some exotic uses," says Robert Bursey, senior vice president of dairy foods and nutrition research.

Just last month Land O' Lakes and Union Carbide announced that researchers have developed a promising new milk-based emollient for shampoos, soaps, lipstick and other beauty products.

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