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Bagging the Youth Market

By Bob Woodiwiss · August 25th, 2004 · Estrangement in a Strange Land

FRITO-LAY, ABSOLUT TO LAUNCH NEW LINE OF "SPIRITED" SNACKS (Aug. 24, 2004; Dallas, TX) Frito-Lay, the global leader in the manufacture and sale of snack food products, announced today that, in cooperation with V&S Vin & Sprit Aktiebolag, makers of Absolut, the world's best-selling vodka, they will introduce Blastéros, a complete line of vodka-fortified chips, pretzels, nuts and other snacks beginning Sept. 1.

Created to satisfy the evolving tastes and emerging preferences of today's adult consumers, Blastéros combine the high-energy carbohydrates and hunger-quelling calories of traditional salty snacks with the cognitive distortion and physical impairment of distilled spirits. Blastéros is the first "solid cocktail" since the invention of the (do-it-yourself) Jell-O Shot in the late-1980s and is believed to be the first non-pourable, non-prescription, wholly legal intoxicant to be marketed and distributed worldwide.

Blastéros will initially be available in Potato Blitz Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, Salut Tortilla Chips (in Cool Ranch and Kamikaze flavors), Mind Twister Pretzel Twists and Totally Toasted Almonds. Line extensions, including Blastéros Bubblegum in Absolut Citron, Kurant and Mandrin flavors as well as Booz Whiz, a "chuggable" aerosol cheese food-and-vodka line, are currently being tested in several markets, with a national rollout tentatively scheduled for Thanksgiving 2004, the unofficial kick-off to the holiday gorging/overdoing it season.

"With Blastéros, we've created a whole new paradigm for adult consumers seeking adult fun," said Frito-Lay President and CEO Phil Dwitphatt. "Anyone 21 and older who's looking to party in a hearty or near-hearty manner, escape the tedium of reality or facilitate an expedient sexual encounter with a transient acquaintance is no longer limited or locked in to tossing back a few cold ones. Now there's the option of scarfing down a few crisp ones. Or, as our new Blastéros ad campaign puts it, 'Let's everybody eat a few drinks.' "

As an ancillary benefit, Mr.

Dwitphatt added, "Blastéros will undoubtedly be 'chased' with oceans of cold, refreshing Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist." Frito-Lay is a wholly-owned subsidiary of soft drink maker PepsiCo.

Discussing their choice of partner for this new product category venture, Al Luring Jr., Blastéros' Brand Manager, stated that Vin & Sprit Aktiebolag was the only distiller even considered. "Quite simply, Absolut sets the taste standard in the category of tasteless liquors."

Absolut President Slürd Wöords added, "Anyone who thinks answers are to be found at the bottom of a bottle will have to think again. Because now answers are just as likely to be found at the bottom of a Blastéros bag or re-sealable, airtight can."

The strategy supporting the creation of Blastéros, Luring said, emerged from medium and long-term market data. "For several years, we've seen the adult beverage category heavily trending away from the tried-and-true, time-honored 'shots and beers' model." This means, he says, that "once popular drinks like gin and tonics, scotch and waters, even Long Island Iced Teas are going the way of absinthe and Schlitz."

But while old standbys wane, he continued, "today's youngest, most influential and most ardent cocktail consumers continue to strongly and repeatedly state their flavor preference for 'alco-pops' -- pre-mixed, high-sugar concoctions like Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezers and Stolichnaya Citron -- as well as 'malternatives' like Mike's Hard Lemonade, Skyy Blue and Zima."

To Frito-Lay's Product Development Division, this data clearly indicated a) alcohol, so long as it can't be tasted or otherwise noticed in any way, is still considered a viable, essential, desirable "perception skewing experience" or "high;" and b) consumers are open to new, different, even "out there" or "asinine" alcohol delivery media.

"Blastéros is ahead of the curve on both scores," Luring observed.

How these general trends morphed into the specific idea for vodka-fortified solid foods, though, came about almost by accident, recalled CEO Dwitphatt. "We kept looking at our success, our overall sales curve, not to mention the growing popularity of seatbelt extensions, XXXXL dress sizes on QVC and doublewide caskets, and saying 'Clearly, America loves our snacks to death. But there must be some way we can take that a step further.' Finally, someone, I think it was me, said, 'If only our snacks were addictive.' At that moment, the light bulb went on."

Research and development on Blastéros began in 2001 under the supervision of Helena Hanbasquette, vice president of solid intoxicant research for Frito-Lay. The new snacks, she says, "are made possible through a proprietary process whereby distilled spirits can be integrated into solid foods with no diminishment in proof or potency." The science of the process was problematic at first, Hanbasquette admits, and "more than once we were sure we had it only to discover that our new chips, like ordinary chips, only elevated the serum cholesterol of lab animals to dangerous levels, not their blood alcohol."

Her perseverance, however, has definitely paid off. "Focus groups emphatically, often even belligerently, tell us Blastéros have none of the unpleasant, 'medicine-y' taste they typically associate with a thorough hammering," she says, with a smile. But Hanbasquette also sees Blastéros as a breakthrough on another front: "These snacks guarantee no man, woman or child will ever get drunk on an empty stomach again. How cool is that?"

Blastéros will be available in supermarkets, convenience stores and package stores nationwide. Proper ID required. Frito-Lay and Blastéros remind customers to nosh responsibly.

BOB WOODIWISS: His column appears here the last issue of each month. His book, Keys to Uncomfortable Living, will be published in September.


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