In the last couple of weeks two acquaintances, both American, independently sent me tweets about belVita breakfast biscuits. The product has been sold by Kraft Foods subsidiaries in Europe for more than a decade and in the UK since 2010; it launched in the US last month with a pre-game ad on Super Bowl Sunday and a huge sample giveaway in supermarkets and to bloggers. (Not this blogger, however.)
Both of my Twitter friends asked the same question: “Doesn’t belVita…
…sound a lot like Velveeta?”
It sure does. And it’s especially odd when you consider that both products—one a cookie-like biscuit, the other a processed cheese food—are made by Kraft. (In the US, BelVita is sold by Nabisco, a Kraft subsidiary since 2000.) Velveeta, the cheese product that’s been around since 1927—some of it probably still in the original packaging and still a pristine, vivid orange—isn’t sold in the UK or Europe. But with belVita now crossing the Atlantic, won’t there be some confusion between the two brands?
Dave Pool in Albuquerque, New Mexico, thinks so:
True, the names have different etymologies: “Velveeta” is meant to suggest “velvet-smooth texture,” while “belVita” is a compression of bella vita, Italian for “beautiful life.” But in a radio ad, I’d challenge you to hear the difference in their pronunciation. It’s of particular concern in Spanish-speaking markets: in spoken Spanish, there’s virtually no distinction between “b” and “v.”
I can only surmise that when it introduced belVita in France, more than 10 years ago, Kraft (or Lu, its French subsidiary) didn’t plan for an eventual US launch and didn’t concern itself about the belVita/Velveeta confusion. But I’d love to hear from someone closer to the source.
So why, all these years later, didn’t Kraft just rebrand the product for North America? Again, I have no inside info. After all, it’s not as though it couldn’t afford to: total Kraft Food revenue in 2010 was $49.2 billion; and the belVita brand alone brought in $100 million. And I doubt it’s because of brand equity: I don’t suspect belVita has built up a huge following among Americans who returned from the UK and Europe clamoring for those exquisite breakfast biscuits they’d bought at Sainsbury’s or the hypermarket.
BelVita faces another marketing challenge: For several decades Americans have willingly consumed breakfast bars like Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain, but the breakfast biscuit is unknown on these shores. Indeed, to most Americans, a “biscuit” is soft and fluffy and served with gravy. (Alternatively, biscuits are for teething babies or for dogs.) BelVita biscuits are hard and crunchy and lightly sweetened.* To overcome Americans’ confusion, belVita’s US site goes into a lot more detail than the UK site about nutritional benefits and the “newness” of the product. According to a MarketWatch story about the US launch, belVita products will be sold in the reassuringly familiar cookie/cracker aisle, not with the dog biscuits.
As for Velveeta, if you’ve ever wondered how it’s made, an article by Veronique Greenwood in Discover magazine reveals all. Did you know there was Velveeta fan fic? Now you do.
* For more on British vs. American “biscuit,” I refer you to the authoritative Lynneguist of Separated by a Common Language.