Near East Spans Globe

PepsiCo is tapping into a consumer trend towards easy-to-prepare, ethnic mealtime dishes with a new digital campaign for its Near East couscous products.
Near East is a 48-year-old brand that includes foods like rice pilaf, falafel and taboule, along with gourmet meal kits. It’s also the first major effort for Near East in nearly three years. (PepsiCo acquired it from H.J. Heinz in 1993—after it was originally started by two Armenian immigrants—and the brand today is sold and marketed under its Quaker oatmeal and healthy snacks portfolio.)
The campaign centers on an online community, Around the World in 5 Minutes, where visitors can share and exchange recipes involving couscous. The brand has also tapped YouTube five-minute cooking sensation, chef Peter Bowen, to star in videos detailing his culinary travels around the world. Bowen is also writing a bi-monthly blog, called Tour de Taste, to highlight different dishes and regional fare using couscous.
Near East brand manager Lindsay Williamson said the campaign’s insight stemmed from research that showed that home cooks “love couscous, but it was a challenge for them to figure out how to incorporate it into everyday meals.” One of the key goals of this campaign, she added, was to show consumers that not only do most Near East products take “five minutes to make,” but to offer them “recipes and ideas on how to incorporate these dishes into everyday dinners.”
Social media plays a huge role in the campaign, Williamson said, because that’s where home cooks are spending the majority of their time — sharing their latest recipe concoctions. But it’s also linking online with offline marketing as well, via in-store sampling efforts beginning this weekend at Whole Foods, Target and national grocery stores, and 100 in-home parties starting the first week in May. Near East chose influencers who are “active on multiple social media networks and cook at home regularly” to host the parties, PepsiCo said. It mailed kits to the party hosts this week.
Invoking couscous’ cross-continental appeal, PepsiCo has also launched a sweepstakes contest for Near East. The grand-prize winner — to be crowned  at the campaign’s conclusion in August — wins a one-week Mediterranean cruise.
The campaign comes as American appeal for ethnic foods—in restaurants and packaged goods—continues to grow. Kraft, for instance, has taken its Athenos brand on sampling tours, and the hummus product was also served to celebrities at a Hollywood Helping Haiti Golden Globes event.

“We’ve seen an explosion of growth in the ethnic foods category. It’s certainly something that’s on trend for consumers,” Williamson said. The opportunity, she added, is for marketers to show consumers how they can take what they see in “travel or restaurants” and replicate it in the everyday home experience.
PepsiCo spent just shy of $30,000 advertising Near East in 2009, sans online, per Nielsen.