Christie snacks again

Christie Brown is still sweeping up the crumbs after the dismal sales performance of its wheat-based snack cracker, Entertainers.Entertainers was launched in 1990, but the brand never caught on with consumers and Christie elected to cut its losses earlier this year.In...

Christie Brown is still sweeping up the crumbs after the dismal sales performance of its wheat-based snack cracker, Entertainers.

Entertainers was launched in 1990, but the brand never caught on with consumers and Christie elected to cut its losses earlier this year.

In recent weeks, however, the firm has re-emerged in supermarkets with a new snack cracker product called Escort.

Industry watchers say Toronto-based Christie, which is a division of Nabisco Brands, also of Toronto, is eager to establish Escort as a viable brand, since the snack cracker segment has been a growth area in the broader cracker market.

Canadians spend upward to $400 million annually on crackers. Roughly half is spent on soda crackers and the other half on snack crackers.

The history of Entertainers stretches back to 1983, when Dare Foods of Kitchener, Ont. introduced its Breton brand.

Breton, which crumbles easily when eaten, stood out from other crackers on the basis of its distinctive ‘mouth feel.’

As well, it is sometimes called a ‘carrier’ cracker, since it goes well with toppings such as meats, cheeses and pates.

Breton inspired a number of copy-cat brands, of which the unsuccessful Entertainers was one of the latest.

Montreal-based Culinar launched a successful imitation brand called Champagne in the mid-1980s.

Other Breton knock-offs have come and gone since, including a Christie product called Calais that appeared briefly in the mid-1980s, and a variety of supermarket house brands, but only Breton and Champagne have been successful over the long haul.

According to A. C. Nielsen, Breton captured a strong 9.4% of total snack cracker sales during the year ending Oct. 31, while Champagne managed a respectable 3.5% during the same period.

Although Christie has been unsuccessful to date in establishing a snack cracker contender in the Breton mode, industry watchers warn the company should not be counted out.

After all, Christie’s Premium Plus brand practically owns the soda cracker market. And, according to A. C. Nielsen, the company’s flavored snack cracker, Ritz, accounts for nearly 25% of the total snack cracker market.

Mike Hager, Christie’s director of marketing on crackers, declined an interview request by Strategy to discuss the company’s experiences with Entertainers or its marketing plans for Escort.

But Gary MacLeod, vice-president of sales and marketing for Dare, says he is not surprised Christie is taking another run at the market.

‘I guess they feel the need to be there,’ says MacLeod, noting the segment has shown continual growth since Dare launched Breton nearly a decade ago.

In an effort to establish a trial among consumers, Christie has been selling Escort at heavily discounted prices.

While Breton typically sells for $2.79 for a 225-gram package, Escort has been hitting the shelves at $1.99, with some stores selling it for as little $1.49.

Despite Escort’s aggressive pricing, MacLeod says he has no intention of letting Breton become embroiled in a price war.

‘We have a game plan of our own for Breton that we are executing and we will not do anything to harm the brand,’ he says.

‘Breton has established its own unique position in the consumer’s mind for quality, texture and taste,’ adds MacLeod.

On Nov. 9, Dare launched a new tv campaign supporting Breton.

The campaign, scheduled to run until Dec. 26, uses the tag line ‘Anything Goes,’ to position Breton as a cracker for all occasions.

Breton’s advertising is handled by dmb&b of Toronto.

Bernard Belanger, Culinar’s brand manager on crackers, says he is unconcerned by Escort’s recent appearance in the market.

‘We are not very worried about Escort,’ says Belanger, explaining Champagne stood up to Entertainers and iwould do the same against Escort.

Culinar has been undergoing an organizational restructuring for the past year and a half, so Champagne has received limited marketing support in 1992, but Belanger says Champagne will be back in the public eye in 1993.

‘We haven’t finalized our plans yet, but we are definitely supporting the brand next year,’ he says.

Ad agency is Young & Rubicam, Montreal.

On the private label front, Loblaws has just introduced a new Breton knock-off, President’s Choice Crisp & Thin.

Loblaws did not respond to interview requests from Strategy to discuss the new brand.