Now, Campbell's Makes House Calls

Its healthy, home-delivered foods are a hit with test groups

When Judith A. Parker was diagnosed with high blood pressure in February, her doctor put her on a mild antihypertensive drug. But Parker, a Dublin (Ohio) dietitian, knew that healthy eating could do the same job as pills. She knew, too, that Campbell Soup Co. was test-marketing a program consisting of dietetically correct foods--prepackaged everything, from frozen entrees to snacks--and made it all simple by delivering the goods weekly to consumers' homes. "It's terribly convenient," says Parker.

Now, four months after starting on Campbell's Intelligent Quisine (IQ) program, Parker's hypertension is under control. She was able to quit taking the medicine after just a month on the special diet. She's slowly shifting to a dining regimen of regular foods--and is determined to get herself off medication and keep her blood pressure reined in. And there's an added benefit: Although the program is intentionally not pitched as a weight-loss diet, it helped Parker drop 25 pounds. "People can change, and they will change if there's sufficient education, information, and resources," says Parker, 50. "I've become much more conscientious."

Exactly the sentiments Campbell wants to hear. By pioneering a line of nutritionally designed, portion-controlled, and vitamin-reinforced frozen, canned, and boxed meals and snacks, 90% of which are Campbell products, the company is aiming to serve the growing need for appealing foods among the 60 million Americans who suffer from hypertension, high cholesterol, or adult-onset diabetes. The company's secret weapon: Consumers find the food tasty--from cinnamon-swirl French toast and New England clam chowder to turkey with trimmings and pot roast with mashed potatoes.

While it's no cure for people's health problems, IQ does offer a means for learning how to manage them. "I personally don't feel this is the answer," says Dr. Ronald Krauss, chairman of the American Heart Assn.'s nutrition committee. "It is just a good tool." Although some critics are concerned about the lack of any long-term studies of the program's effects, it generally wins plaudits for being tailored to modern dining habits. "We have people all around the country rushing home and popping fast foods into the microwave right now, and unfortunately, in many cases, they're high in fat and high in salt," says Dr. Sidney C. Smith, immediate past president of the American Heart Assn. and a big supporter of IQ.

SCIENTIFIC APPROACH. Campbell is working hard to win over other physicians. The company consulted with the American Heart Assn. and the American Diabetes Assn. to tailor its 40 or so meals to nutritional guidelines limiting fat, cholesterol, and salt. Right now, the IQ program is limited to the Ohio test markets. But the home-delivered meals, sent weekly by United Parcel Service Inc., are already drawing a lot of attention from doctors--in part because Campbell has 20 salespeople urging health-care professionals to recommend the IQ program to their patients. R. David C. Macnair, the head of the Campbell division marketing the meals, says that in doing so the company is following the pharmaceutical marketing model.

The biggest marketing weapon in Campbell's arsenal is a study of the program carried out by independent medical researchers, published in the January issue of the American Medical Assn.'s Archives of Internal Medicine. The study, involving 560 participants, found that after 10 weeks on the meal plan, 73% of participants showed a drop in their cholesterol levels and 75% a fall in blood pressure. The program's most significant benefit was a reduction in blood glucose, a problem for diabetics, by an average of 9.9%. Some of the IQ diners reported they felt healthier and performed better on the job and even in bed--though Campbell isn't marketing the foods as work- or sex-enhancers.

The scientific approach, however, leaves Campbell open to scientific attacks. Critics say that the study's time frame was far too short to prove lasting reductions in health problems. "We're not sure what a 10-week study means," says Dr. Jeffrey A. Breall, a Georgetown University cardiologist. "In 10 weeks, you can see a fluctuation in cholesterol, in weight, in a tremendous number of things that are simply that--fluctuations."

More troubling still, there is scant evidence so far that consumers are willing to stick with healthy dining much beyond a 2 1/2-month intensive program and a four-week "step down" program that is meant to wean them off the Campbell packages and back on to regular food. Weight-loss programs that depend on prepackaged foods, such as Nutri/System Inc. or Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers Inc., are notorious for their high rates of recidivism. Breall argues that proper nutrition counseling and effective behavioral modification are all that the patients really need. "It's more than just buying a prepackaged set of meals," he says.

Campbell, which took five years to develop IQ, is quick to reply. The company and its supporters say that the meals themselves teach consumers about proper foods and portions. What's more, the IQ participants are blitzed with educational materials--from medical brochures to weekly newsletters--that motivate and educate. Typical advice: "Figure out why you were grabbing for a snack," says one. "Knowing why you do something can bring you one step closer to finding a solution."

The company is also working to produce evidence of long-term benefits. In February, it began a year-long study of consumers following the IQ program. "It would be to Campbell's benefit to demonstrate effects over the long term," says Krauss.

Certainly, IQ has made believers among many of the consumers who have tried the diet. Marion W. Watkins, a 68-year-old retired pilot with heart problems and diabetes, has trimmed his cholesterol and blood sugar dramatically since going on the regimen last February. After two weeks, he was able to stop taking diabetes medication and soon lost 30 pounds. With all that, the Beaver Creek (Ohio) resident says, he was never hungry and rarely strayed from Campbell's offerings.

Still, few consumers seem likely to make a lifelong diet of IQ. Even with the large variety available in the program, diners admit they like to go out for a meal every so often. And the cost, at about $70 a week per person, is a bit stiff. But with tens of millions of potential customers with various ailments, Campbell may not need repeat business. If the company acquires a reputation for getting people to eat right, that could help ensure a future for other Campbell products. "I've lost 30 pounds," says Watkins. "Maybe this will give me 30 more years, too." For Campbell, that's a few decades' more business.

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