You might not think that noodle pots are particularly macho, but recent innovations aimed at encouraging women to tuck in indicate that the category is becoming more female-friendly. The two main brands - Batchelors' Super Noodles and Unilever's Pot Noodle - are pushing their pots to a wider audience.

Pot Noodle once proudly proclaimed that it was 'dirty' and helped consumers 'get the horn'. But although schoolboys may have sniggered at the brand's smutty ad campaigns, they didn't do much to boost sales. A recent revamp, with a new recipe as well as new packaging, set out to clean up Pot Noodle's act and convince those other than students and campers to try the product. This approach appears to be working.

According to Unilever, the pot category is worth £84m [ACNielsen MAT 17 June 2006] and is showing healthy growth. Sales of its infamous plastic pots have grown 5% in the latest 12 weeks thanks to the brand's more modest image.

The reinvention is largely based on the fact that Pot Noodle now has no artificial colours or preservatives and less than 5% fat. It has also reduced salt by 28% and launched low salt versions, which Julie McCleave, business operations manager at Unilever, says have been well-received by consumers who liked the taste.

"Health and convenience are key trends and Pot Noodle is well placed to exploit that," says McCleave.

She admits that the brand needed to re-engage with consumers and remind them why they love it. Sixteen to 30-year-old men are the core consumers but the revamp is designed to win new fans, such as women and mums buying for their teenage children.

"We recognise there's an opportunity to appeal to women and reassure

mums that putting Pot Noodles in their trolley is OK," admits McCleave.

Changes include the addition of two new lines - Chicken & Mushroom Reduced Salt in standard and king pot size - and replacing Beef &Tomato, Chow Mein and Sweet & Sour varieties. Names have also been simplified to explain products better, so Sizzler has become Sizzling Bacon, and Seedy has become Mexican Fajita.

Its recipes and product names may have changed, but the brand is still as controversial as ever. The recent Fuel of Britain TV campaign, which showed miners in a Welsh village digging for noodles, received more than 80 complaints for being racist, many from the Welsh community. However, the complaints were not upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Batchelors 98% Fat Free Super Noodles To Go range is also looking to attract female consumers.

It first launched a pot format for its Super Noodles a couple of years ago, then launched the healthy range, which brand manager Louise Shaw reckons taps into all three key trends of convenience, enjoyment and health. "Fat Free SuperNoodles To Go is bringing new users to the category and increasing the average weight of existing purchases," she says.

Other brands have added a premium aspect to the sector, such as Blue Dragon's Noodle Wok - which comes in a wok-shaped container with separately packaged ingredients - and Sharwood's recent Noodle Box launch, which looks and feels less laddish. It is also a slight variation on the theme, calling for a microwave, rather than a kettle, to cook the product.

The company hopes to capitalise on the trend for single meal occasions as well as lighter eating, with younger people as one of

its key targets.

Marketing manager Helen Williams say: "We make clear that it's not a Pot Noodle, and want people to understand that it's a great nutritious filler on the go. It now has 14% market share and is bringing people, many of them younger consumers, into the category." n