Behind the advertising controversy has been vigorous NPD taking an iconic brand to new highs (or is that lows?)
Pot Noodle effectively created the instant hot snacks market with its launch in 1979. Now in its 24th year, the iconic brand remains fresh and continues to increase sales thanks to the launch of new flavours and variants, and innovative advertising.
On average, four pots are sold every second in the UK, with total sales of £100m. Chicken & Mushroom remains the top selling variety with 40% of all sales. In 2001, the brand achieved 8% volume growth year-on-year and, with an £12m spend in 2002, Pot Noodle hopes to grow by 15%.
Around £4.5m of that budget was spent on an ad campaign describing the brand as the Slag of all snacks'. The ads were meant to celebrate the heritage of the brand as a quick and trashy snack. Alistair Burgess, category manager at Unilever Bestfoods, says: "They represented a slightly more rebellious, irreverent attitude towards life which our consumers identify with."
But the ads didn't curry favour with the Independent Television Commission. It placed a post-watershed restriction on the commercial but then ruled that the word slag' was unsuitable for broadcast at any time as it was a term "capable of causing offence among viewers".
Helen Park, PR manager for Unilever Bestfoods, stresses: "We never set out to be offensive. We did research, not just with the 18 to 25-year-olds, but also mothers."
Product innovation is seen as key to continuing success and in March this year, Bombay Bad Boy was launched. Branded Hot Noodle', it is already the fourth biggest selling flavour in the range accounting for 6% of all instant hot snack sales. It is predicted to be worth £5m a year.
Supported by a £1.5m TV ad campaign, Bad Boy lived up to its name and got in trouble with the Advertising Standards Authority for a poster ad saying, Hurt me you slag'. It received nearly 300 complaints and the ASA agreed the poster ads condoned or could encourage violence.
Despite the controversy the ads were very successful with Information Resources data showing sales up 26% in the weeks after the start of campaign. But Park is keen to point out this success is due not only to the advertising but to the whole marketing campaign that included promotions, instore activity and innovative new products.
Pot Curry is the latest offering and replaces Pot Rice. "We needed to revitalise Pot Rice so we updated the interpretation and came up with Pot Curry," says Park. Launched last month, it will be available in three flavours, tikka masala, korma and balti, supported by a £1.5m launch spend. Unilever Bestfoods expects it to produce sales in excess of £9m by 2003.
Burgess says: "Pot Curry addresses untapped market potential by meeting demand for immediate curry flavoured meals."