Try for a moment to imagine Fig Newtons without the fig. Seems like a day without sunshine, doesn’t it?

And yet, maker Kraft Foods is trying to reinvigorate the brand by removing the “baggage” associated with the humble fruit altogether.

Last year, Kraft dropped references to the fruit from the brand and renamed the cookies as “Newtons.” At the same time, they launched a campaign highlighting new fruit flavors as well as Fruit Thins, a line of crispy cookies.

After four years of decline in sales for the brand, Kraft conducted market research and found that opinions were sharply divided over the cookies. “For people who loved us there was heritage there, and they had eaten them most of their lives,” said Tara Rutan, brand manager for Newtons. “But the opposite was true with the people that didn’t love us — they knew the brand as Fig Newtons, but they really disliked figs.”

According to Jeff Hilton, co-founder of the agency Integrated Marketing Group, consumers also attach a “geriatric” stigma to figs and associate them with an undesirable laxative effect.

So, Kraft changed their strategy and downplayed the fig. “We needed to let fruit be the core of the brand as opposed to the fig,” said Gary Osifchin, senior director of sweet snacks at Kraft. “It was going to be hard for us to advance the Newtons brand with the baggage of the fig.”

Since then, sales are up and Kraft has earned a 3.2 share of the American cookie market, up nearly a point from last year, primarily from Fruit Thins. Indeed, consumers seem to be gobbling up the company’s fig alternatives. In 2011, fig varieties made up 75 percent of sales, but now only account for 60 percent.


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