Fattening up the line

Slim Fast Nutritional Foods of Toronto is hoping a line extension to its Ultra Slim Fast meal replacement products will add much-needed bulk to its corporate profits profile.The country's leading marketer of dietary aids is in the midst of rolling out...

Slim Fast Nutritional Foods of Toronto is hoping a line extension to its Ultra Slim Fast meal replacement products will add much-needed bulk to its corporate profits profile.

The country’s leading marketer of dietary aids is in the midst of rolling out Way of Life, a line of six weight-maintenance snack-food products including cookies, pretzels and popcorn.

In French, the products will be known as Joie de Vivre.

Retail advertising will begin Nov. 15 with a co-op flyer distributed by Shoppers Drug Mart.

A tv spot featuring Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda – Ultra Slim Fast’s tv spokesperson for the last several years – will follow shortly thereafter, just in time for Canada’s annual Christmas season junk food frenzy.

Slim Fast, which is a division of New York-based Slim Fast Foods, could use a solid performer in the marketplace.

The meal replacement category, which is notoriously cyclical, has fallen off precipitously in the last 12 months.

And Slim Fast, which owns the lion’s share of the market on the strength of its Ultra Slim Fast powdered meal replacement, has had the most to lose.

Most of that loss has been in Ontario, the country’s largest market, but sales are generally down across the board.

Josh Abraham, director of marketing and new product replacement for Slim Fast in Toronto, says he hopes Way of Life will open a new niche market in Canada for weight maintenance products.

Abraham says the weight maintenance category in the u.s. is large and growing, noting Slim Fast’s u.s. parent entered the weight maintenance category in 1991 with a line extension to its Ultra Slim Fast meal replacement brand.

Ultra Slim Fast weight maintenance products and Way of Life have much in common, although the nutritional content is different reflecting regulatory differences between the two countries.

As well, Abraham says regulatory differences led to the company’s Canadian division choosing a different brand name.

The Way of Life products do not meet Health and Welfare’s criteria to be classified as meal replacements. Thus, they are prohibited from being sold under the brand name of Ultra Slim Fast, which is a meal replacement.

To get around the issue, Abraham renamed the line Way of Life and then placed the company name, Slim Fast Nutritional Foods, in large type on the face of the product packaging.

Having the Slim Fast name up front in big letters could be crucial to the brand’s success. Way of Life might be an unknown, but Abraham says ’5% of the population uses our product on any given day and another 5% use it on and off.’

Abraham, who says he spent a year developing the Way of Life line for the Canadian market, says he plans to stock product in retail in the dietary aids section and next to snack foods such as chips and cookies.

‘To start with, we plan on putting it in the Slim Fast section, but we would like, in addition, to put them in the snack food section,’ he says.

The Canadian market for meal replacement products, including powders, ready-to-serve shakes, puddings and bars, is almost $100 million.

Abraham claims Ultra Slim Fast powder accounts for 64% of that market, adding it also accounts for 75% to 80% of the company’s overall sales.

Other products on the Slim Fast roster include bars and shelf-stable ready-to-serve liquids.

And this month, it is launching a new ready-to-serve version of its meal replacement aimed at the dairy trade.

Advertising for the product, which was introduced in the u.s. a year ago, begins this month.

Abraham says distribution of the product, which comes in single-serve cardboard containers and requires refrigeration, will be handled by a network of dairy partners.

He says it will be distributed in grocery stores, as are the company’s shelf-stable products, but it will also be distributed in convenience stores, marking the first time Slim Fast has gone the convenience store route.

Ultra Slim Fast’s leading competitors in the meal replacement market are Dynatrim, made by the consumer health products division Lederle Laboratories, and Nutra Bar, made by Searle Canada.