They're All Juiced Up At Tropicana

If you think marketing consumer products has an almost predictable sameness to it, you haven't checked in on Juice Wars lately. Procter & Gamble Co. has hardly been living up to its master marketer reputation in its Citrus Hill orange juice operation. It has been selling juice under the name Fresh Choice, though it's made from frozen concentrate. On Apr. 24, the Food & Drug Administration, miffed about the misleading use of "fresh," abruptly impounded 2,000 cases of juice. Citrus Hill, a distant third in the business (chart), will relabel its packages to eliminate the offending terminology at the very time it has been introducing new products.

Now look at Tropicana Products Inc. In the last year, according to data from Information Resources Inc., Tropicana has tied Coca-Cola Co.'s Minute Maid for first place in orange juice. That's a gain of seven full points of market share in six years. It sells the "Florida-squeezed" virtues of its not-from-concentrate Pure Premium juice without ever using the word fresh. That strategy is a winner: In the estimate of PaineWebber analyst Emanuel Goldman, Tropicana's fiscal 1991 operating profits were $91 million on $1.1 billion in revenues.

For its next trick, Tropicana is surrounding shoppers with its powerful brand name. Its juice and juice-flavored drinks are on your grocer's juice shelves, soft-drink aisle, dairy case, and frozen-food section. "Tropicana is on the brink of capturing the total juice market," says Tom Pirko, president of marketing consultant BevMark.

Tropicana wasn't always such hot stuff. When Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Inc. bought it in 1988 for $1.2 billion, Tropicana was a midsize piece of the Beatrice Co. food empire, where Robert Soran was its president. Soran, now 47, had joined Beatrice when the food conglomerate bought his small meat-packing company.

Seagram decided to keep Soran because he had already designed a smart strategy--to build up Tropicana's decades-old business in ready-to-serve, not-from-concentrate orange juice. He figured he could make his juice look a lot fresher and tastier in comparison with Minute Maid's frozen concentrate, which dominated the market.

Seagram obliged by leaving Soran and his team pretty much alone. It also came up with the money needed to branch out from Tropicana's traditional stronghold in the Northeast and boost advertising from $20 million in 1987 to $33 million last year. Tropicana's new ads neatly convey the idea of freshness without resorting to the f-word. Many spots show drinking straws poked into luscious-looking oranges.

So far, Tropicana has beaten back efforts to best it in the not-from-concentrate category. Minute Maid introduced Premium Choice in 1988 to go head-to-head with Pure Premium. Yet by last December, Minute Maid had only 3.5% of the not-from-concentrate O. J. market, and it hasn't made major inroads in the Northeast, where consumers down twice as much orange juice as other Americans. Now, P&G is trying out a low-cost entry into not-from-concentrate. In February, it began testing in five Southern states a product it will sell only when Florida oranges are in season.

That doesn't deter Minute Maid, which continues to deny rumors that Coca-Cola wants to sell it. It's introducing Premium Choice on the West Coast and adding new sizes and packaging. "We are not sitting down at all," says Pierre Ferrari, senior marketing vice-president for Coca-Cola Foods.

Tropicana isn't just defending its gains. It's tapping consumers' twin obsessions with health and convenience. "We have made a commitment to introduce a new product every 90 to 120 days," says Soran. The goal: to dominate juice sales outside the refrigerator section of the supermarket.

GOOD-FOR-YOU. Already, Tropicana's Twister line of bottled and frozen juice blends--the tag line is "Flavors Mother Nature never intended"--is showing annual sales of $125 million after two years on the market. The latest addition to the line is Twister Light, a low-cal version of the most popular flavors sweetened with NutraSweet.

Then there's the year-old Tropicana Juice Sparkler line, which BevMark's Pirko thinks could do quite well this summer. These carbonated fruit juices are Tropicana's entry into the $600 million "New Age" category of good-for-you beverages that satisfy a consumer's yen for a soda pop.

Tropicana is also scouting overseas with the help of Seagram's international executives. A joint venture between Tropicana and Japanese beer giant Kirin Brewery Co. is already selling four chilled-juice flavors in Tokyo. The company plans to offer these and a Pure Premium line throughout the Far East next year. Minute Maid, too, plans to go overseas, with the help of Coca-Cola's distribution networks. P&G is already strong in Germany. But if Tropicana keeps pouring it on, it may end up showing its rivals how to sell juice `round the world.

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