Former Spillers chief to revive Nestlé food arm

Rob Murray, the former commercial director of Spillers Petfoods UK, whose job was axed after the 715m company takeover by Nestlé, has been drafted in to boost Nestlé’s stagnant food division.

In his new role as managing director of the Nestlé food division, he will oversee an array of brands including Crosse & Blackwell tinned and packet foods, the Buitoni pasta and sauce range, Nestlé chilled desserts, Branston Pickle and Sun-Pat spreads. He replaces Eddie Humphreys, who will become managing director of Nestlé Ireland after just one year as md of the UK food division.

Sources say ex-Procter & Gamble marketer Murray will need all the intellectual rigour and enthusiasm he can muster when he takes over in January 1999.

Nestlé will hope Murray can bring to its food division some of the successes he notched up at Spillers. He was responsible for Felix catfood, which increased its volume share of the market from three per cent to 26 per cent on the back of a TV drive – through BMP DDB – which featured the black and white cartoon cat Felix.

Industry sources say Nestlé UK chairman and chief executive Peter Blackburn is keen to inject some marketing dynamism into the brand portfolio. According to analysts, the Swiss company’s food division has a poor track record in new product innovation and does not market its existing brands well.

One food industry analyst says: “Nestlé brands have a somewhat ‘mature’ image. Nestlé has some very strong brands with lots of latent appeal, but fails to make the most of marketing oppor-tunities. If the idea is to jazz up its brands with some really cool advertising it can only help.”

Nestlé has already spent 30m on TV ads over the past three years in an attempt to boost the C&B brand. It has recently announced plans to bring the 40-year-old Findus frozen food range under the C&B name and will spend 26m explaining the change over the next six months.

One industry source with access to Nestlé’s sales figures claims that sales for C&B, Findus and Sarson’s vinegar are slipping, while Branston Pickle’s sales are stable. Buitoni and Sun-Pat sales are increasing, but only gradually. Nestlé refuses to comment.

Murray is the second top-level ex-Spillers appointment at Nestlé since the company was bought in May. Former Spillers managing director, Alastair Sykes, will replace David Thomson as managing director of the confectionery division Nestlé Rowntree when he retires at the end of the year (MW 11 June).

The merged petfood division will be renamed Friskies Petcare UK and will be led by Paul Butler, former general manager of Nestlé’s existing petfood business Friskies (MW 11 June).

The advertising account may be consolidated into one agency – McCann-Erickson handles the 2.7m Friskies account and BMP DDB handles the 7.4m Spillers account. A decision is not expected until the end of the year.

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