News highlights, market trends, and original data analysis related to the U.S. retail food & beverage industry … by Jay Nargundkar
Disclaimer: The author of this post works for the company that manufactures Jell-O; he is not involved with the operation of this brand.
In the mid-1990s, Jell-O had the tagline “It’s Alive!” in a memorable series of ads. That was during the heyday of the brand best known for its oozing, neon-colored gelatins and for its snack puddings. As the AP reports, more recently Jell-O has been on a slippery sales slide, with sales down about 20% over the past four years.
However, the AP article focuses only on the gelatin product, explaining the growing aversion to high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors:
People have become more finicky about what they eat. They’re increasingly seeking out foods they think are natural or wholesome, and Jell-O’s bright reds, greens and blues may inadvertently serve as warning signals to moms about the artificial dyes they contain. The second ingredient listed for the Jell-O gelatin cups is also high-fructose corn syrup, a cheaper sugar substitute that more people are shunning.
Nutrition more broadly is another issue. Jell-O has long positioned itself as a lighter alternative to cakes and pies (as the slogan goes, “There’s always room for Jell-O”). But the trend now is toward foods that claim some sort of benefit, such as protein and fiber.
Even for those who have fond memories of eating Jell-O, the problem is just that — it’s a treat associated with the past. “It almost seems childish to cook it now,” said Ted McGrath, a 34-year-old painter in New York City who thinks of Jell-O as being in the same category as Twinkies or fast food.
Yet gelatin is only part of the Jell-O brand, and actually a smaller part in terms of sales to pudding. A closer look at syndicated sales data from Nielsen shows that pudding is in trouble, too — and that it’s the ready-to-eat refrigerated section of Jell-O (encompassing both gelatin and pudding) that’s really getting killed. (Blame the popularity of Greek yogurt, a healthier option, for now monopolizing many consumers’ — and retailers’ — shelves.)
Unfortunately for Jell-O, its problems are only accelerating. Comparing Jan-Sep 2014 data to the same period from a year ago, sales are down 8%, with refrigerated pudding again leading the decline.