published Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Chattanooga Bakery hoping new packaging will boost sales of iconic MoonPie

Emira Besic stacks boxes of MoonPies as they come down a conveyor belt at the MoonPie factory on Aug. 10. MoonPie has unveiled a new package design for its products, the biggest change to its packaging in nearly two decades.
Emira Besic stacks boxes of MoonPies as they come down a conveyor belt at the MoonPie factory on Aug. 10. MoonPie has unveiled a new package design for its products, the biggest change to its packaging in nearly two decades.
Photo by Allison Love.

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CHATTANOOGA BAKERY

* 1902 - Born from Mountain City Milling Co., Chattanooga Bakery creates a “Lookout” brand named after Lookout Mountain.

* 1917 - MoonPie is introduced.

* 1952 - MoonPie positioned as “the original marshmallow sandwich”

* 1972 - Double Decker MoonPies introduced

* 1992 - MoonPie logo updated to mark 80 years of business

* 1999 - Mini MoonPies introduced

* 2003 - MoonPie on first episode of Food Network’s Unwrapped

* 2008/09 - MoonPie a featured concession at the Masters golf tournament

* 2009 - MoonPie general stores open in Chattanooga and Charleston, S.C.

Source: Chattanooga Bakery, Goldstein Group

HOW MOONPIE WAS BORN

At an impromptu brainstorming session between Kentucky coal miners and company salesman Earl Mitchell Sr., the miners wanted something solid and filling as they often didn’t get a lunch break. When asked how big, a miner held out his hands, framing the moon. When Mitchell returned to the bakery, he noticed some workers dipping graham cookies into marshmallow and laying them on a window sill to harden. Adding another cookie and chocolate coating was tried, the MoonPie was distributed and it became a regular item for the bakery.

Source: Chattanooga Bakery

BY THE NUMBERS

* 1 million - MoonPies produced daily

* 290,000 - Square feet of Chattanooga Bakery plant

* 140 - Employees at Chattanooga Bakery, which makes Moonpie

Source: Chattanooga Bakery

The Chattanooga maker of MoonPies has embarked on the biggest change to the icon's packaging in nearly two decades.

MoonPie, made in Chattanooga since 1917, has an updated logo and packaging that embraces its past to grow future sales, according to maker Chattanooga Bakery.

"The new packaging is very reminiscent of our historical packaging," said Sam Campbell, the company's president and fourth generation head of the family-owned firm. "It's designed to stir up the warm feelings people associate with our brand while also modernizing the look."

The aim, said Campbell, is so the package "jumps off the shelf and into your shopping cart."

Chattanooga Bakery is 110 years old, born from Mountain City Milling Co. While Chattanooga Bakery sold as many as 150 products early on, now it offers just one -- the MoonPie.

For the key update, the four-generation business hired a New York City-based company with expertise in brand identity.

Terri Goldstein, chief executive of The Goldstein Group, said it specializes in understanding how consumers in a store see, feel and relate to a brand in 10 seconds or less.

She said the firm did a historical review of MoonPie and found that in the 1930s, the brand had a midnight blue look.

"It was very romantic and very appealing," Goldstein said, adding that the color combination on the existing packaging hadn't set it apart.

The new look retains a celestial theme while using cloud-like art to convey the fluffy texture of the marshmallow that's sandwiched between two cookies.

The packaging also contains a digital rendering of the MoonPie to highlight the Southern icon better than traditional photography.

Tory Johnston, Chattanooga Bakery's vice president of marketing, said the change was a vital one for the company and was based on a lot of research.

"We're in the impulse food business," he said. "This gives consumers another reason to pick you up."

The company, which has offices and production facilities off Hamm Road, started the packaging remake with its MoonPie Minis.

"There's a distinct consumer for every size," Johnston said. "Moms like the Mini."

So far, sales are up on the newly packaged products, he said. The company is aiming for a 10 percent annual jump in revenue, though Johnston wouldn't reveal dollar amounts.

"That seems to resonating," the company official said about the change.

Headwinds

MoonPie, which sells in 48 of the 50 states, is dealing with a lot of external challenges nearly a century after its introduction in 1917.

The company is facing headwinds from rising commodity prices, he said. Prices for corn and wheat have been climbing throughout the summer because of a drought gripping much of the Midwest

Chattanooga Bakery also must compete with giants in the snack food business such as Hostess and Nabisco, and Little Debbie maker McKee Foods Corp., which is located in Collegedale.

"We will continue to be opportunistic and evaluate our options as we try to grow sales and employment here," Campbell said.

The company employs about 140 people in Chattanooga. Two years ago, it renovated and rebuilt about 50,000 square feet of what was believed to be the oldest part of the plant, going back to before the 1940s.

Amid the economic downturn, Johnston said Chattanooga Bakery has maintained "good, steady performance," outperformed the industry and enjoyed some growth years.

MoonPies is "a value brand," he said, and it competes in the tough, crowded and mature cookies and snack cakes category.

He said that "staying fresh and noticeable visually is so important, particularly for an impulse item...."

"We need to try new things," Johnston said, citing an Alabama and Auburn "rival pies" offering that should stoke up fun among football fans.

"We'll continue to innovate," he said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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