In Marketing's annual Biggest Brands report (25 August), KP Snacks' Hula Hoops suffered a 14% drop in value sales - the worst in the top 10 bagged-snacks category. This came despite recent category growth of more than 2% in 2003, driven by a 2% rise in the crisps sector, which added £20m. Traditionally a UK favourite since its launch in 1973, Hula Hoops' market share has been in constant decline in recent years, falling from 5.8% in 1999 to 3.3% in 2003.
United Biscuits-owned KP Snacks, has tried a range of initiatives to keep consumers interested in the product. It has pledged to invest £6.5m in the brand this year and, over the past 12 months, has slashed Hula Hoops' price and launched a £4m advertising campaign through Publicis.
Limited-edition Shake 2 Flava packs have been introduced, together with Bacon & Ketchup and Cheese Toastie variants. Over the Easter Bank Holiday Hula Hoops gave away packs through a tie-up with The Sun and, separately, ran a £3m text and win promotion on 125m packs this summer.
Yet it seems that Hula Hoops could be falling victim to over-extension and increasingly desperate promotional strategies. It is is not the only UB brand having problems - Go Ahead, Penguin and Phileas Fogg are all in decline -but Hula Hoops has continued to move away from its heartland and consumers may choose not to accompany it. If the core product continues to be gradually diluted, faith in the brand may decline.
We asked John Mudd, founder of Real Crisps, and Simon Gore, general manager of brand consultancy Vibrandt, which works on Quaker's snacks account, how Hula Hoops can win back the nation's support.
VITAL SIGNS - BESTSELLING BAGGED SNACKS
Brand Value (pounds m) Yr/yr % change
1 Walkers (regular crisps) 260-265 5
2 Pringles 100-105 12
3 Hula Hoops 45-50 -14
4 Walkers Sensations 40-45 55
5 Mini Cheddars 35-40 0
6 Quavers 30-35 -10
7 McCoy's 30-35 8
8 Wotsits 30-35 8
9 Doritos 30-35 11
10 Walkers Lite 20-25 5
Source: TNS Superpanel, Marketing's Biggest Brands. Data covers year to
20 June 2004
DIAGNOSIS 1 - JOHN MUDD FOUNDER, REAL CRISPS
Hula Hoops is an old favourite with many consumers and the product is still relevant as a family snack, appealing to children and adults alike.
The internet is full of references to the product, mostly people reminiscing, with the majority of those comments being positive in tone.
Retail sales of savoury snacks in the UK account for £2.4bn each year and, as with any other product, Hula Hoops will only keep its position in the top 10 of this fiercely competitive market if it keeps up the pressure.
Most worryingly, Hula Hoops' market share has been in decline since 1999. This is partly due to growing competition from Wotsits and Quavers.
On-pack offers such as '1000s of tasty gadgets' don't seem to be helping. KP Snacks seems to have seriously lost its way in its attempts to shore up this well-established product.
Hula Hoops' declining market share should have generated some heavy reaction by now. If KP Snacks doesn't remedy this downward spiral soon, it may prove terminal.
- Modernise Hula Hoops' image and introduce some more adventurous flavours to the range.
- Reduce the sodium, remove the MSG and target kids. Convince parents that the product is more suitable for their children than other snacks.
- Offer a better bag-fill and improve the value-for-money image of the brand.
- Hula Hoops are fun, so have fun marketing them, but avoid running advertising that is too wacky.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - SIMON GORE, GENERAL MANAGER, VIBRANDT
In the face of Walkers' marketing might and the trend toward targeting adults with premium products and snacks for sharing, it is perhaps not surprising that Hula Hoops is losing its ability to hula.
Hula Hoops has tried to keep pace through innovation, but expansion can only be successful when starting from a strong core brand and feeding back positively to the parent. Instead it seems to have detracted from the brand, which looks dated and less relevant.
It could have emulated Tango, but poor pricing strategy and products have failed to deliver and wasted the effect of its distinctive brand attitude.
Hula Hoops appears obsessed with being a hip teenage brand, but I wonder whether the purchasers of its core range are older and wiser, and buy the crisps simply because they love the product.
The circular identity could be deemed iconic, especially since Hula Hoops has been around since 1973, but the brand lacks depth and comes across as rather bland. The back of its pack is lifeless and looks as if it could have been designed by a law firm.
- Strengthen Hula Hoops' core as a platform for successful innovation.
- Create a distinct proposition, develop a personality and use the entire pack to communicate it.
- Remind people how good the product is -it's different, uniquely shaped and moreish.
- Set up a more dedicated team to manage and drive the brand.
- Explore the brand's quirkiness, such as the name's origins in a 50s fad.
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