The makers of Spam, long a symbol of frugality, are advertising the often-maligned canned pork as a way to relieve boredom at the dinner table as the recession wears on.
The "Break the Monotony" ad campaign moves to television and radio Monday as consumers seeking to eat on the cheap buy more of Hormel Foods Inc.'s low-cost Spam, Dinty Moore beef stew and namesake chili. The campaign offers new uses for the meat-in-a-can designed to brighten its image — away from the meat notoriously lampooned in a 1970 Monty Python skit and toward a fun, hip ingredient useable in a range of comfort foods.
Sales of canned foods, especially canned meat, have been rising in the recession as people limit their food spending because they usually cost less than fresh fruits, vegetables or meat, said Marcia Mogelonsky, an analyst with research firm Mintel.
"They're an alternative to just eggs or a sandwich or whatever," she said. "It extends a meal. It adds a protein."
Hormel boosted advertising for the 72-year-old brand last year with the first national print campaign for Spam in five years, reminding people about it and focusing on new products like Spam singles. Spam sales rose in the double digits for the three-month period ending in April compared with a year earlier. That's on top of a 10 percent gain the brand made last year, benefiting, the company says, from both advertising and the trend of people eating more at home.
This year, the campaign focuses on customers who may be having trouble coming up with ideas for new meals each night, said Dan Goldman, senior product manager for the Spam family of products. Hormel is suggesting easy updates — like including Spam in pasta dishes — that offer uniqueness, he said.
"There is a portion of the population out there that has become rather in a rut when it comes to preparing their meals and is looking for a little creativity," he said. "They want to add a twist to what they do but they're looking for a very effortless addition."
The company declined to say how much it was spending on the campaign.
Hormel hopes the ads will drive traffic to its revamped Spam Web site, which now includes some 350 recipes broken down by four main ingredients — egg, tomato, potato and macaroni, all low-cost mates for Spam. Recipes include Cheesy Country Spam Puff, Spamaroni and Spam Lettuce Wraps.
Goldman said more people are spending more time on the site, which could indicate they're logging on for recipes and staying for other offerings, including a simulated-cooking game that times people as they search for ingredients in a virtual fridge and cupboards for recipes like a Hearty Spam Breakfast.
The campaign's new television ads intend to reinforce the "break the monotony" theme by showing food in everyday settings being interrupted by a lively serving of Spam.
In a spot called "Bored Room" pieces of bread gather around a table to learn about bun-warming from a monotone piece of whole grain. A sleepy baguette and other pieces of bread are nodding off, and then a can of Spam bursts through the doors as loud rock music plays. The breads get excited, with one slice even letting down her hair. She tells viewers to check out www.spam.com for more ideas.
The 30-second ads, which also include eggs going through roll call in a classroom and a piece of cheese on a boring date with macaroni, will air in 47 markets, including San Diego, L.A., Minneapolis and Dallas, through mid-October.
Two-page print ads have been appearing in People, Better Homes & Gardens, OK! and other national magazines since March. Mogelonsky said the campaign is forward-thinking because it doesn't dwell on how much the brand has been mocked.
"That just makes it much more creative," she said. "They're not making anybody feel bad about it. Spam used to be poor people food."
But it's not anymore, she said.