Product names and descriptions applied to Lincoln Snacks Company’s line could easily fit into the adjective-heavy lyric side on the album sheet of the Beatles’ “St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
The company made its name purveying decadent, caramel-coated, pre-popped popcorn and other snacks marketed under rather colorful and very identifiable brand names: Poppycock®, Fiddle Faddle® and Screaming Yellow Zonkers®. Those appellations appear just as fun to market as they are delightful for customers to eat. Indeed, in promotional materials, the Lincoln, Neb.-based enterprise jokes that “the introduction of Screaming Yellow Zonkers [in 1969] and the subsequent break-up of The Beatles is purely coincidental.”
Engaging in the psychedelicized ‘60s spirit conveyed by that ersatz history, one could even suggest that Lincoln Snacks should develop a brand called Screaming Apple Bonkers (you have to know the Beatles’ 1969 film “Yellow Submarine” to grasp that pop culture reference). But don’t hold your breath waiting. The company is moving into a much more sophisticated direction. Key concepts now include enhanced decadence and indulgence – particularly indulgence, with a capital “I”.
“We’re launching a product extension of Poppycock, called Indulgence®, which will become available in January 2007,” reports Kris Malkoski, chief marketing officer for the Chicago-based Ubiquity Brands, which now owns Lincoln Snacks.
Malkoski describes the ever-popular Poppycock as “clusters of nuts and popcorn with a caramel-butter glaze.” Indulgence, as Malkoski indicates, makes that concept even more decadent: “It takes Poppycock’s cluster concept to a new level by mixing more premium ingredients together with glazed substances to create a high-end taste experience.”
Both Lincoln Snacks and Ubiquity anticipate a new hit product. “The luxury premium segment of the marketplace is growing greater than 15 percent each year,” reveals Malkoski, “and when we did consumer product research, we found that people have loved Indulgence. We think it will be a big success.”
In the meantime, Poppycock remains the number-one dollar share brand in the caramel corn category, she says. Fiddle Faddle, characterized by its clusters of popcorn and peanuts covered in a caramel glaze, is still a very popular family oriented product. But Screaming Yellow Zonkers, popcorn (without the nuts) covered with a butter glaze, no longer has a strong retail presence.
From Personal Use to Mass Popularity
The origins of Poppycock, and its Indulgence extension, date back to the early 1960s and a Villa Park, Ill.-based company called Wander, makers of the famous Ovaltine milk drink mix. Wander bought the rights to Poppycock from Harold Vair, the man who invented the tasty confection. Vair, the owner of a chain of midwestern candy shops, developed the snack for personal use. “Essentially, he invented Poppycock as a snack that he could eat as he drove around the region to check on his stores,” informs Malkoski. “Wander commercialized [his recipe] and brought it to the mass market.”
Wander produced Poppycock at its Villa Park facility and, in 1967, it introduced the Fiddle Faddle variation. This was followed in 1969 with the introduction of Screaming Yellow Zonkers.
In the 1970s, Wander was purchased by a company named Sandoz and became Sandoz-Wander. Responding to increasing and overwhelming demand for the snacks, Sandoz-Wander built a production facility in Lincoln. The site still produces all of the products (hence the company’s current name, Lincoln Snacks).
In 2004, the Chicago-based Willis Stein & Partners investment firm purchased Lincoln Snacks. Willis Stein also purchased Jay Foods and Select Snacks, which it placed under a corporate umbrella called Ubiquity Brands, along with Lincoln Snacks. Today, each snack company operates independently.
Corn, Nuts & Glaze
Lincoln Snacks continues producing Poppycock. Comprised of clusters made with nuts, popcorn and covered with the “Amazing Glaze” coating, it is considered a gourmet snack. “Poppycock consumers are professional people,” says Malkoski. “They include higher-income men and women 35 years and older.”
Fiddle Faddle, a combination of popcorn mixed with caramel, butter toffee and peanuts, appeals to families and retired, older people who don’t want to pay a premium price for a gourmet snack, adds Malkoski.
Through the years, the products became almost as well known for their distinctive packaging as for their characteristic tastes. The original Fiddle Faddle box featured its famous carry handle – the first-ever snack to come packaged in a box with a handle. As for those Yellow Zonkers, the packaging was as distinctive as the Beatles’ “White Album,” but with a significant reversal: It was the first food-industry item to be packaged in black. Even more, that black background enabled the inclusion of wild graphics and outlandish text.
The new Indulgence products are geared especially toward women, specifically professional women 25 years and older.
“It is marketed to professional, educated women who are confident and satisfied with where they are in their lives,” says Malkoski. “At the same time, these women feel overworked, over-stressed and under-rewarded. Therefore, they realize that they have to reward themselves, and they understand that the best way to do that is by indulging themselves in a treat that’s incredibly decadent.”
However, Malkoski says these women aren’t looking to engorge themselves. “Rather, they want something that is simply pleasing to their taste buds,” she emphasizes.
As such, the flavor names are based on comfort and cosmetics and include Simply Diva™, Belgian Love Affair™, Nights in White Chocolate™, Chocolate Crush and Toast of the Town™.
“The Nights in White Chocolate, for example, offers honey-coated clusters of English toffee, sesame seed and pistachios wrapped up in a pistachio caramel glaze with white fudge drizzled over the top,” describes Malkoski.
The Indulgence line, she explains, follows the significant trend in the sweets market toward the more decadent and indulgent products. “When you go into a store like Target and look at the retail shelf, you can see where the growth is focused,” Malkoski points out. “The shelves are stocked with Godiva and Lindt and the more premium dark chocolates. That’s what we’re tapping into. Not only is the luxury premium consumer segment growing at a rate faster than 15 percent each year, but also the premium indulgent chocolate segment in the food/drug mass market grew 20.2 percent last year. It is now a $1.3 billion industry.”
Lincoln Snacks produces all of its products, the traditional and the new, at its 110,000-square-foot plant in Lincoln, reports Ubiquity’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Dunn. “In that past two years that we have owned Lincoln Snacks, we’ve made investments in processing capabilities, adding chocolate capabilities, because we felt that is where the market was heading,” he says.
Ubiquity installed about $6 million worth of improvements at Lincoln, including new lines for processing and single-serve packaging. To reduce production costs, Lincoln has embraced lean manufacturing and Six Sigma programs. “For example, in terms of cost reduction, we’ve reduced material losses by 70 percent on our main production line,” reports Dunn.
Investments also went into packaging production lines, he reveals. “We were seeking to have more flexible packaging capability,” he comments. “For instance, the small box we are creating for Indulgence is a different kind of package than we have produced historically.”
That difference turns out to be quite revolutionary, and it taps into an expanded social consciousness. “One of the things we found when we were looking at the psychographics of our intended audience is that they are very self-actualized and cause-oriented,” explains Malkoski. “So, we decided that it was very important to make a statement with our product.”
Ubiquity is accomplishing that by tying into CARE®, a leader in the fight against global poverty, with 60 years of experience in working side by side with poor people to identify and address the greatest threats to survival. “CARE touches the lives of over 55 million people every year, most of whom are women and girls. CARE has found that if you can empower women to make a difference in their communities, you will improve the overall community,” explains Malkoski.
Specifically, in addition to donating a portion of Indulgence sales to CARE, Ubiquity is producing a package with a five-panel box, instead of one with the traditional four panels. The extra panel will provide the space for the message. “It lies on the back of the fourth panel, and customers can open it up and read success stories about women whose lives have been impacted by CARE’s work,”says Malkoski. “We’ll be featuring different women from across the world on this extra panel.”
Further, the fifth panel will also be used to provide an inspirational message that women can cut off and hang up. “They can tack it up at work or place it on their refrigerators, to give them a little extra delight during their day,” says Malkoski.
In this way, the new brand and its new packaging indicate more than just a novel marketing strategy. As Dunn indicates, Ubiquity Brands – and Lincoln Snacks – is driven to place the consumers first. It’s all about developing innovative products, and then packaging them in such a way that it provides the socially conscious consumer something extra. You say you want a revolution? Ubiquity and Lincoln are doing their part. In the process, they’ve differentiated themselves from the competition in a significant way.