One of America's marketing disappointments has long been the inability of U.S. manufacturers to sell food in tubes. In Europe, it is done successfully. In Japan and Australia, too. Even Canada has had more success with food products in tubes than the United States has.
Here tubes are considered packages for toothpaste. They are also associated with certain medications like burn ointments, antiseptics and so forth. Some suntan preparations and skin creams come in tubes for convenience. But it took years of testing and retesting before shampoo manufacturer Procter & Gamble decided it was safe for Prell and Head & Shoulders to be sold in tubes -- long after the brands were successful.
But during the recent International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association trade show in Baltimore, a company called Grivico in Neu-Ulm, Germany, displayed Grunland Kasezbauer (Cheesemagic). This is a cheese product with yogurt and calcium, carrying a Tom & Jerry license. The famous cat and mouse cartoon characters appear prominently on the front panel. And they appeal to kids.
I have long maintained this is the way to get the concept accepted in the United States. The idea is really very simple: Follow the lead of the aseptic "drink-box" manufacturers and offer tube foods that are targeted specifically to kids. Kids don't have the preconceived idea that the tube is for limited use.
Like Combi-bloc containers, when aseptic packaging first came over from Europe, it was almost exclusively limited to beverages targeted to kids. Young children didn't know that fruit drinks and beverages were supposed to come only in cans or bottles or refrigerated milk-type cartons. So they accepted good-tasting, inexpensive beverages in boxes. The boxes were lightweight, convenient to carry and usually came with straws.
As the idea caught on, entrepreneurs with other product ideas went to the packaging firms controlling use of the containers, and were turned down. The boxes were to be used only for beverages until they became commonplace here. And it worked! Limiting the target audience allowed a whole new generation to accept a new concept of packaging -- despite the fact that teachers and parents hated it when kids made water pistols out of them and shot the package contents at each other in lunch rooms, playgrounds and picnic areas across America, leaving sticky residue on clothing, books and ceilings.
Cheese could be just one of a number of foods packaged in tubes with kid appeal. Peanut butter and jams (separately or mixed together), ketchup, salsa, mayonnaise, candy (newly available from Amurol) -- even bubble gum -- are just a few of the products kids could get used to snacking on when they come home from school. If you get them to accept food in tubes while they are young, won't they carry this acceptance along to concentrated instant soups, tomato or garlic paste, etc., as they grow older? The trick is to have the food companies make a consolidated, targeted effort, in partnership with the tube manufacturers. Germany already has it going. Can American companies take the concept and run with it?
Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.