Sales slump sees Chicken Tonight sink

Sales of Unilever’s Chicken Tonight have slumped by almost a quarter since their peak in 1994, despite a 5m investment in the brand last summer.

The brand was hailed a huge success after it shot to the leading position in the market, just eight months after its 1993 UK launch.

It was supported by the high-profile “flapper” ad campaign, which featured clips from a nationwide roadshow. But, according to IRI Infoscan Data figures, sales are falling dramatically.

The original six varieties were gradually increased to 12 by August last year, when packaging for the whole range was redesigned and a new series of TV ads, through J Walter Thompson, unveiled.

But an influx of new products, and own-label sub-brands such as Sainsbury’s Chicken Saucery, have hit Chicken Tonight’s value share, which dropped from 20 per cent in 1994 to 15.4 per cent this year.

Infoscan’s four-weekly audits this year show the brand’s value share dropping from 18 per cent at the beginning of January to 13.5 per cent at the end of March – 30 per cent down on 1994 figures.

A trade source says: “Chicken Tonight has been positioned as a means of refuelling, not cooking. Van den Bergh is marketing ambient ingredients in the same way as a frozen ready meal.”

Van den Bergh denies investment in the product will be cut, or that product variations will be withdrawn. A spokesman for the company says: “There are going to be ups and downs but the long-term view is we are delighted with the progress of Chicken Tonight. It has been heavily supported since its launch and this will be sustained.”

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