Limited success

Products that are only available for a short time can do wonders for a brand. And drive sales up, too.

ARGUABLY THE MOST famous limited-edition product ever created, the McDonald’s McRib sandwich has inspired nearfanatical devotion since it started clogging arteries in 1982. Thirty years later, the sandwich is celebrated by the McRib Locator website and countless Facebook groups.

Products like the McRib, its sibling the Shamrock Shake and the Cadbury Creme Egg have developed cult followings by virtue of their limited availability.

In the U.K. alone, Cadbury sells approximately 3.4 chocolate eggs for every man, woman and child between January and April.

No wonder, then, that manufacturers are tapping into shoppers’ love for limited-edition foods. In some cases, products celebrate brand milestones. This fall, colourful cans of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup appeared in Target stores to mark the 50th anniversary of Andy Warhol’s famed 1962 painting 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.

In other cases, manufacturers trial new flavours. Take McCormick. The London, Ont.-based spice company has introduced a new flavour to its line of Club House One Step seasoning blends each year since 2008. This year it’s Roasted Chili & Tamarind. The limited-time aspect “creates a real sense of urgency in consumers,” says product manager Tiffany Block.

McCormick’s limited editions are usually on shelves for only a year. However, demand led the company to make two limited-edition seasonings, Chipotle Mango and Blazin’ Pepper Bourbon, permanent to its line.

Patricia McQuillan, president of Toronto brand consultancy Brand Matters, and a former brand manager with Kraft Foods Canada, says limited editions can serve several purposes. They can revive a flagging brand, generate incremental sales or be used to test-market a product in advance of a widespread introduction.

The strategy can also yield big sales benefits. With the right marketing support, it’s not uncommon for limited-edition products to create five per cent sales increases for an existing brand. “That’s a lot when you’re selling millions of packages,” McQuillan says.

In February, the Campbell Company of Canada’s Goldfish brand introduced a limited edition addition to its popular Goldfish Crackers brand, called Goldfish Mix Up Adventures. It combined the Xtra Cheddar  avour from the brand’s Flavor Blasted product line with Goldfish Pretzel, a product previously unavailable in Canada.

“We thought it was an opportunity to increase consumption,” says Mark Childs, vice-president of marketing for Campbell. The product achieved just over 50 per cent sell-through in its first two weeks on the shelf.

As a result of Mix-Up Adventures’ success, Campbell decided to permanently add the Goldfish Pretzels product to its existing product roster. “It gave us the confidence that the Pretzel product would potentially connect with Canadians,” Childs says, noting that the product has been doing “very well” since its July debut.

The results were encouraging enough for Campbell this fall to try out Goldfish’s first-ever Halloween specic snack packs, designed as a healthier alternative to chocolate and candy. Now, if only there were a similar alternative to the McRib.