Brand Health Check: Pringles

Consumer health concerns and fierce competition have hit the stacking potato chips brand hard, writes Jemima Bokaie.

Procter & Gamble launched Pringles in the UK in July 1991, and quickly built it into the UK's second-biggest brand in the bagged snacks sector.

Over the past five years, however, the FMCG giant's sole snack offering has suffered a dramatic fall in sales in a declining market.

Sales of Pringles have slipped 9% during the past year, according to TNS research for Marketing's Biggest Brands survey (Marketing, 24 August), despite an £8.7m adspend in 2004.

One widely publicised problem facing all snack brands is the growing number of health-conscious consumers. This, combined with a decline in the population of under-16s, has hit the crisps sector hard.

In response, P&G launched Pringles Lights, which are 33% lower in fat than regular Pringles. More recently it also introduced Mini Pringles, a lower-calorie variant with 20% less fat, sold in 23g snack-size packs.

The brand has also targeted the impulse market with shorter, 50g tubes.

Last year, meanwhile, it launched Dippers and Dips ranges, which were backed by a £3.5m campaign.

However, competition within the bagged snacks sector is strong. Walkers still dominates, taking a 57% share of the market's retail value in 2004, according to Mintel. It was the only brand, apart from McCoy's, to have increased its sales over the past year through its Lites range and Quavers brand. Premium and gourmet crisp brands have also shown growth.

Earlier this month integrated agency Joshua was appointed to Pringles' £3m European sales promotion account. The brand has shifted away from traditional advertising, relying on sales promotions via partnerships, such as a Star Wars tie-up in April, which featured an on-pack giveaway.

This summer it offered consumers a free Blockbuster rental with the purchase of three 200g packs.

Like many snack foods, Pringles will need to continue to address concerns about healthy eating, as it did when it recently changed its 'Once you pop you can't stop' strapline to 'Once you pop the fun don't stop'. It is also considering expanding its portfolio into healthier snacks, such as popcorn.

We asked Steve Messenger, senior director at market research agency Ipsos and former head of business insights at Sainsbury's, and Laura Morris, client consultant at Nunwood, whose clients include Asda, how the Pringles brand can differentiate itself.

VITAL SIGNS Manufacturer share of UK crisps and snacks market by value 2004 2002 (pounds m) % (pounds m) % 1 Walkers 1329 57.7 1275 53.4 2 KP 318 13.8 330 13.8 3 Procter & Gamble 128 5.6 165 6.9 4 Golden Wonder 97 4.2 143 5.5 Own-label 236 10.2 250 10.5 Others 195 8.5 233 9.8 Total 2303 100 2385 100 Source: Mintel

DIAGNOSIS 1

Steve Messenger Senior director, Ipsos UK

Nearly everyone I know loves Pringles. They are, after all, 'naughty but nice' - buy a packet and it won't last 10 minutes. But that is the key problem facing the brand's marketing team.

One of Pringles' most memorable campaigns emphasised how difficult it was to restrain oneself to eating just one or two of the chips. Moreover, with the growing clamour about snack foods' role in consumer health problems such as obesity, the brand is under pressure from all sides, and no amount of price-driven sales promotion will solve the problem.

Pringles must discover a new territory; one that it can own in the mind of the consumer and which will replace the old positioning. Unless it does, stretching into other sectors of the snacks market is unlikely to succeed because the real problem rests with the core brand.

Achieving this means finding untapped usage occasions that the core brand can satisfy uniquely. It must develop a reason for being that builds on its 'stackable' characteristics. If Pringles fails to do so, it will continue to struggle.

REMEDY

- Go back to basics. Give consumer groups the task of inventing occasions for which only Pringles will do.

- Before thinking about flavours or attacking other snack sectors, focus on the central problem of finding a creative message that will once again give consumers permission to indulge.

- Leverage the brand's stacking properties.

- Do not worry about the high-fat/low-fat debate. Just manage it.

DIAGNOSIS 2

Laura Morris Client consultant, Nunwood Consulting

In a market dominated by Walkers and KP, being different, innovative and relevant to consumer lifestyles is key.

Pringles ticked all three of these boxes when it entered the UK snack market in 1991. Keen promotions, distinctive tubed packaging and a catchy slogan helped to set the brand alight. But fast-forward to 2005 and the picture is less rosy.

The UK's ageing population want healthier snacks and are reducing their grazing on high-salt, high-fat crisps in favour of fruit or cereal bars.

The category is also seeing more 'adult', sophisticated and premium offerings, and more polarisation between the indulgent/exotic and healthy.

In future, successful brands will tailor their offerings to this end of the spectrum or risk holding the nondescript 'so what?' middle ground.

Pringles has responded to some of these trends, but its efforts have been limited. Low-fat varieties come in only a handful of flavours and its more exotic crisps fail to achieve the same premium feel as the likes of Walkers Sensations.

REMEDY

- Home in on more adult occasions, such as the 'big night in'.

- With tastes becoming more exotic, why not create fruit-based flavours to inspire interest and lure the health-conscious.

- The tube packaging is less distinctive and, arguably, less relevant today.

- Switch targeting away from younger people toward adults, or tailor different snacks to each end of the market.

- Extend the healthier offering.

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