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GROCERY: Center Store Development: Not by white bread alone

Any doubt that whole grains have reached deep into the food market's mainstream should be erased by Interstate Bakeries Corp.'s (IBC) introduction this month of White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain from Wonder. While the iconic brand already features whole grain varieties, this is the first version of Wonder Bread that, in essence, tries hard not to look, feel, or taste like it's any healthier.

The company says it was created and is being marketed expressly for people who wouldn't otherwise eat anything but white bread. For the most part, that means kids.

"As more and more consumers look to incorporate healthy choices, including 100 percent real whole grain, into their families' diets, they're encountering a roadblock when it comes to bread: Most kids don't like wheat bread," notes Jacques Roizen, c.m.o. of Kansas City, Mo.-based IBC. "As the company that has led the way in the white bread category, we've created White Bread Fans 100% Whole Grain specifically for people who want the benefits of real 100% whole grain, but simply prefer the soft texture and mild taste of white bread.

"Not only will moms feel good about serving their families healthy and nutritious food, everyone in the household will be able to enjoy the same bread," says Roizen.

Perfect timing

According to press reports, General Mills and Sara Lee are coming out with breads that will look and taste like white while containing whole grain nutrients, but Wonder says its product is the only one to be made from 100 percent whole grain.

The rollout has begun at retailers in San Francisco, Sacramento, Kansas City, Omaha, Memphis, and Little Rock. White Bread Fans is expected to be available nationwide by early 2006. A one-pound, eight-ounce (680-gram) package retails for a suggested $2.39 to $3.29.

Characterizing the development of White Bread Fans as the biggest innovation in the bread category in at least two decades, Roizen says that the product was "perfectly timed to meet the wants and needs of consumers," with its rollout closely following the release of the government's new nutritional guidelines that recommend three to five daily servings of whole grains.

The bread also is a good source of fiber and calcium, and provides nine vitamins and minerals, according to IBC.

Although Wonder remains the No. 1 brand of white bread, there's been "a slow, long-term decline" in the segment as consumers have begun to clamor for products they perceive as healthier. White Bread Fans allows IBC "to leverage our position to bring a healthier white bread alternative to the market," Roizen explains.

The new product made perfect sense for Wonder, Roizen adds. "Who better than Wonder Bread to bring under its umbrella whole grain bread with the taste of white bread?"

IBC held focus groups at the concept level to gauge consumer interest, and during the research-and-development process organized unbranded tastings. It received "overwhelming positive feedback," Roizen says, with eight out of 10 consumers expressing interest in a whole grain bread made for white bread lovers.

Color-blind consumers

IBC further found that the slightly beige color of White Bread Fans wasn't nearly as important to consumers as its more classic taste and texture, the attributes with which consumers were most concerned. As a result of its research, IBC "expects very high repeat purchase based on trial," says Roizen.

He concedes that White Bread Fans may spur some cannibalization in sales, but he's quick to point out that it will come from other breads as well as Wonder, adding that IBC is "looking forward to gain" in the overall category.

The introduction of White Bread Fans is part of a relaunch of the Wonder brand, which also consists of the introduction of another new product, Wonder Kids, a fiber-enriched white bread, and the consolidation of various Wonder SKUs under the designations of Wonder Classic and Wonder Sandwich Classic. The White Bread Fans rollout is being accompanied by a promotional blitz, including high-frequency TV ads targeting women between the ages of 25 and 54 with children.
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