FORT WASHINGTON, Pa. -- Although McNeil Consumer Products here continues to invest in a variety of consumer marketing programs, a spokesman for the Benecol brands of salad dressings, snack bars and margarine recently said its efforts would become more and more focused on recommendations from the health care community.
Ron Schmidt, vice president of communications for McNeil, told SN that "functional foods is really an evolving category. We are learning every day. Good marketers listen to what the market tells them. We have redefined our marketing effort to focus on the health care professionals.
"Market research confirms that the health care professional plays a critical role. We believe that consumers who are serious about reducing their cholesterol turn to their doctors for advice," Schmidt said. For that reason, and because Benecol has more than 20 clinical studies showing its use reduces low-density lipoproteins [the so-called bad cholesterol] by more than 14% when used on a regular basis, the company is increasing its effort to target physicians for the whole line of products.
Schmidt said more than 30,000 doctors are already recommending Benecol and that three hospitals -- Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Mich.; The Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.; and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio -- are now serving Benecol with patient meals, when appropriate, as part of a heart-healthy diet plan. The Henry Ford medical group has 800 physicians in 40 specialties at Henry Ford Hospital and 31 Henry Ford Medical Centers. Henry Ford Health System is also affiliated with 1,800 private practice physicians throughout southeast Michigan.
McNeil is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J., a firm that counts talking to health professionals among its core competencies. "Our sales force that calls on them are talking to them. We are also doing a lot more with the physician community. We will be communicating with them in the ways that they want to be communicated to," Schmidt said.
Among recent consumer marketing activity was a $2 rebate through a Catalina Marketing coupon given at the register. Noticed by SN at a Pathmark store in Queens, N.Y., this rebate "is one of many programs that we do to encourage people to try the product," said Michelle Wang, public relations director for the Benecol brand. However, the rebate was not advertised in any visible way.
An SN spot check of another cholesterol-lowering dressing, Take Control, made by Wish-Bone, a Lipton brand, found four flavors in a Food Emporium at 32 St. and Third Ave., N.Y. -- Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Italian and French -- selling at $5.09 for 8 ounces. A red diagonal banner across the front of the label said "Helps Promote Healthy Cholesterol Levels," and at the top of the neck, another red slash banner said "From the makers of Wish-Bone," with the Wish-Bone logo. No coupon was forthcoming, and no special rebate offer was advertised. Lipton's consumer hotline and name appeared on the neck label.