Chex Party Mix gets a makeover, going upscale and cheap at the same time

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It must be quite a conundrum for businesses to advertise their way through this lousy economy. Financial companies are having a hard time figuring out how to sell their wares to wary consumers -- does experience really count when you're only afloat because of a federal bailout? So now Chex Party Mix enters the fray with a new advertising campaign, and maybe they are a good example of riding both sides of the rail at the same time.

A New Look for Old Brands

    What Changed: Chex Party Mix, invented in 1955, will get a makeover with new recipes, new packaging and a new spokeschef, Katie Lee Joel, (pictured in the center, with Suzanne M. Grimes, president, Food & Entertaining at Readers Digest on the right and Cheri Olerud, senior cookbook editor and test kitchen expert for Chex cereal on the left.

    Business Wire

    What changed: The 400-location hotel worldwide hotel chain is in the middle of a $1.7 billion project to renovate about half its U.S. hotels. The new look includes brighter colors in the room, with pillowtop beds and white duvets and flat-screen TVs. Sheraton is rolling out a branded line of toiletries, called Shine by Bliss, and fitness centers will get upgrades. Lobbies will feature restaurants, most with a casual dining chain called Relish, and cafes with Internet stations. Some locations may also have a steakhouse developed by Shula's.

    AP

    What changed: Now owned by Stride Rite, which re-acquired the rights to the sneaker brand from hip-hop mogul Damon Dash (a recent foreclosure victim), PRO-Keds are going to get a makeover as they come back into the fold. Stride Rite will focus on classic styles, such as the "Royal" canvas basketball shoe, first introduced in 1949, and give it an overhaul that will hit stores in November and retail for $50 to $80.

    ProKeds.com

    What changed: Hasbro updated the 60-year-old game of Clue with changes that include a fancy new mansion with a spa and theater, and new weapons like a baseball bat and an ax. Professor Plum is now an Internet billionaire and Colonel Mustard is a former football star, and the murder mystery takes place during a party for the rich and famous. The game structure has also changed somewhat, with the addition of a second deck of cards, which is supposed to add an extra element of surprise.

    Hasbro

    What changed: Little girls have been inundated with Disney princess paraphernalia for years now, and the line has been so popular that the company wants to try to do the same thing with fairies. Tinker Bell, a mere side character in J.M. Barrie's 1911 novel and the 1953 movie version of Peter Pan, is going to soon be a leading lady. A straight-to-DVD movie, Tinker Bell, comes out October 28, and that will be followed by a line of books, toys, lip gloss and stationary. The new line could mean big bucks as Tink already brings in about $800 million in retail sales for existing products.

    AP | Disney

    What's changed: Strawberry Shortcake got more than just a new dress or two when she got a makeover earlier this year (just before American Greetings sold the rights to the character to a Canadian company). The '80s icon got a total makeover that includes a few nips and tucks to her physique as well changes to her makeup. She will now spend a lot of time talking on her cell phone and eating fresh fruit in an effort to appeal to a new generation of young girls. A new animated movie and TV series are slated for 2009.

    American Greetings

    What changed: Holiday Inn is in the process of a $1 billion makeover of its hotel locations as well as its logo. About 100 properties will leave the chain, while about 1,000 hotels will be added over the next three years. Existing locations will be upgraded in ways big and small from improved infrastructure to "triple-sheet" bedding. All locations that are spruced up will get the new logo, which will be a stylized white H on a green square, rather than the green script familiar from most highway views.

    AP

    What changed: A new global version of Monopoly Here & Now replaces the streets of Atlantic City with world metropolises like Taipei, Cape Town and the Latvian capital of Riga, which nabbed the Park Place spot in a round of online voting. Hasbro's new board game, which will be printed in 37 languages, goes on sale next week. You'll still be able to find the original version on sale, but the game maker is trying to attract a global audience with this new version.

    Ray Stubblebine, Hasbro / AP

    What changed: Xerox has one of those special brand names that has become the common name of a product or process -- in this case photocopying documents. But in 2008, after 40 years of the same boxy, bland look, the company decided it needed a makeover and it rolled out a new logo and branding campaign. Now, the logo has a red sphere attached to it that is supposed to symbolize the brand's worldwide reach and rounded lower-case letters.

    Xerox

    What changed: Wal-Mart keeps growing larger and larger, but it is also experimenting with getting smaller at the same time. The giant retailer is starting a pilot program of four small Marketside stores in Phoenix, Ariz., and if the concept works it could expand to ten stores, and then perhaps 1,000. The new stores, only 15,000 square feet, will offer groceries and other fresh items that shoppers can get to quickly. Wal-Mart also is testing six Neighborhood Market stores in Tulsa using the same concept of a smaller space and a focus on fresh food.

    Wal-Mart



Chex Mix, as originally envisioned, was a cheap party snack -- one of those "mother of necessity" inventions like the Toll House Cookie, where a housewife took what she had on hand to pull together something at the last minute to feed people. Back in 1955, it was pretty economical too -- just some cereal, some seasonings you'd have around the house and some extras like nuts or pretzels.

Now, however, if you've got a big box of Chex mix in your pantry, it's probably one of the more expensive items on the shelf. And if you've got the branded Chex Party Mix -- already flavored for your convenience -- you've probably paid even more per ounce. That's where the gourmet part of this comes in.

The new marketing campaign from General Mills is pitching Chex Party Mix as a gourmet snack, and pitching a recipe contest with chef Katie Lee Joel, (yes, she's married to Billy Joel). Interested parties can vote for their favorite of the five recipes presented: Original Chex Party Mix, Cheesy Ranch Chex Mix, Chex Muddy Buddies, Chocolate Chex Caramel Crunch and Cinnamon-Apple Chex Mix. All are supposed to take 15 minutes to prepare in the microwave. Or you can just head to the store and shell out for the packaged variety.

Many families will be struggling this holiday season -- buying fewer gifts, eating in and cutting back on spending on holiday entertaining. The truth is that many people will probably be creating a few new "recession specials" born out of financial necessity. One key one would be to develop a Chex Party Mix type of snack that you can make with generic cereal, or some much more inexpensive home-cooked grain. Crunchy farina party mix, anyone?



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