Churches are a key avenue for Murray Biscuit Co. as it creates a separate segment for a new product and brand in an overall cookie category that last year declined 2 percent.
Murray, a division of Keebler Co., trawled the Internet for names of African-American and Hispanic churches that could sample Tropicales Fruit Cookies, a type of shortbread cookie.
“In the Hispanic and black communities, churches are very prominent,” Murray spokesman Peter Mathon said. “They're a touchstone of those communities, so they're buying-decision influencers.”
Shaped like flowers with holes in them, the bright-colored cookies debuted July 14. The targets are mainly African-American and Hispanic mothers ages 18-30 as well as children.
“It will be in all stores [though] African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans have a higher purchase intent,” said Scott Chapman, Atlanta-based Murray's director of marketing. “However, extensive consumer testing has proven that Tropicales appeals to all consumers.”
That said, research by Murray found that these two minorities would be most open to trying the unusually colored cookies with fruity scents and a sweet taste. The flavors are strawberry, grape, lemon, lime and orange.
Mathon & Associates, the Republic, OH, firm that handles the Tropicales sampling program, researched a few dozen Web sites to find African-American and Hispanic churches. It found blackpages.com/churches, pcusa.org/racialethnic, ethnicharvest.org and thechurchguide.com.
Once identified online, 1,000 churches were called to verify pastor, congregation size, contact information and willingness to accept samples for distribution at their upcoming events.
United Parcel Service will ship the samples over the next three to five weeks. Each church will get two cases, each containing 12 packages of cookies, as well as a cover letter to the pastor.
Each pastor is introduced to the benefits of the cookies. They are also informed of Tropicales' availability in the cookie aisle of supermarkets in their neighborhood.
“We hope your congregation will enjoy these samples of Tropicales at upcoming church events — and we've also enclosed discount coupons towards future purchases,” the letter reads.
“If you wish to share comments about Tropicales, feel free to contact us,” it continues. “Limited additional samples and coupons may be available for specific church events.”
Rita Mathon is identified as the letter writer and the key person at the Tropicales sampling program.
The enclosed manufacturer's coupon is good till March 31, 2004. Consumers who buy a couple 11-ounce packages at the regular price get a third free. Each cookie packet costs $1.49.
Concurrent with the Internet-driven church effort is a vast product trial exercise. Some 1.5 million samples will be distributed in various parts of the country from mid-August through early October. The samples will contain coupons for redemption at stores.
That grassroots sampling will take two forms. In-store distribution is one. The other tactic is “brand ambassadors” at major occasions and venues like music festivals and sports events. People handing out the cookies will sport tropical shirts and “Gilligan's Island”-style hats.
Murray will create awareness for the product through point-of-sale displays and shelf talkers hanging off the shelves to publicize the cookies. A public relations campaign aimed at African-American and Hispanic newspapers as well as food editors at major dailies will support.
The company, whose Keebler parent is owned by cereal maker Kellogg Co., is positioning Tropicales as “the fun taste of the tropics.” Even the bright packaging shows visuals of a palm and the pertinent fruit linked to the cookie.
The cookie may have untapped potential. According to 2002 industry and internal statistics cited by Murray, Hispanics spent 7 percent more on cookies and African-Americans 4 percent more compared with 2001. Both groups combined account for one-quarter of the U.S. population.
Murray initially considered 10 flavors before narrowing the introductory phase to the top five choices after testing and market research.
Chapman said the cookies were launched to time with summer. Hence the references to “fun, refreshing and tropical” in marketing messages — all associated with summer.
“The introductory phase for Tropicales will last through October,” Chapman said. “However, Tropicales is not a promotion. Tropicales Fruit Cookies are an ongoing new product.”