Philadelphia Cream Cheese gets a makeover

Kraft is changing its recipe -- and its tub design -- to appeal to health-conscious shoppers. 'There is a cultural shift at work,' says the CEO.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 2, 2014 1:21PM
Kraft Foods Group Inc. Philadelphia cream cheese tubs
David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy Sarah Nassauer, The Wall Street Journal

For its Philadelphia Cream Cheese Spreads, Kraft wants to end the spin.

Kraft Foods Group (KRFT) has changed its packaging design from those familiar circular tubs to an oblong container it hopes will keep its label facing front so shoppers can better see it on store shelves.

And for the first time since the spreads' introduction in 1982, Kraft is making significant changes to its recipe, hoping to appeal to increasingly health-conscious shoppers. It is adding more fruit and vegetables and reducing artificial flavors and colors in some varieties.

"Freshly made and simple ingredients are becoming primary purchase drivers," said Kraft chief executive Tony Vernon during a presentation to investors in Florida earlier this year. "There is a cultural shift at work here," he said.

For two and a half years, Kraft scientists reviewed ingredients in all 24 cream cheese spread flavors from Strawberry to Chive & Onion. Their aim was to drop artificial ingredients and add more visible pieces of fruits and vegetables to signal freshness to consumers, says Drew Tilton, senior group leader ofresearch and development for Philadelphia. Now 22 spreads tout "No Artificial Flavors" on labels.

Consumer tests showed people wanted more produce flavor in some varieties -- but not too much, "so it still tastes like cream cheese," says Tilton. Kraft added about 30 percent more blueberries to each container of that flavor, and 44 percent more chives and onions to that flavor. To its "garden vegetables" it added only 12 percent more vegetables, such as carrots and green peppers, to reflect consumer taste preferences, says a spokeswoman.

Even without recipe changes, the cost of ingredients such as milk have increased. In March, Kraft raised prices on all Philadelphia brand products by about 7 percent to reflect the rising cost of ingredients. The price hike wasn't a result of the pricier recipes, say Christopher Urban, senior brand manager for Philadelphia. "As we added cost in one area, we took out cost in another," cutting production and other costs, he says.

Some artificial ingredients stayed. Red 40, a food dye, remains in the Strawberry and Salmon varieties. Artificial flavoring is in two chocolate flavors. The artificial preservative sorbic acid is in every flavor. Natural red coloring becomes "sort of orangey-brown," over time, a consumer turn off, Mr. Urban says.

"Our goal is to get red 40 out" of all the spreads, along with artificial preservatives, says Mr. Urban. For its blueberry flavor, the company replaced artificial purple coloring with beet derived dye, he says.

The new oblong tubs stop "spin" on grocery shelves. The circular tubs often spun around during shelf stocking or shopper shifting, says Urban, making shelves messy and confusing. Raised lines on the lids help lock a tub on top of it in place so tubs can "nest inside each other," not spin, he says.

On the front of packages, the logo now says "since 1872," the year the cream cheese was invented, to show consumers "we have been doing the same thing for 142 years," says Urban. Absent from the new logo is reference to Kraft because the company wants to simplify the brand image to just Philadelphia, a spokeswoman says.

The new tubs are also narrower, allowing Kraft to get one more row of tubs onto a 4-foot section of grocery shelf. Consumers like to see what's inside a container, so Kraft added a picture of cream cheese to packages, internally called "the schmear" image, Mr. Urban says.

To "really romance the ingredient story," flavors are now described, says Urban. "Strawberry," became "real, vine-ripened strawberries," and "Garden Vegetable," is now "crisp garden vegetables."

Angles on the edges of the package are meant to evoke fresh, soft cream cheese, says Tilton. "The way it feels in your hand, there are no hard angles" on the bottom edge of the tub or top corner of the lid, he says.

More from The Wall Street Journal

Tags: KRFT
Apr 2, 2014 3:04PM
Did the article state whether the size would remain the same or is this another case of up dating that shrinks the amount of the contents and raises the price.
Apr 2, 2014 4:15PM
And as a result they will raise the price. Don't screw with the BLOCKs of Philly Cream Cheese Kraft or the back lash may hurt!
Apr 2, 2014 3:10PM
I'm allergic to Red Dye #40. I'm surprised at all the products that contain this dye. I do hope Kraft and other Companies work at getting rid of the dyes. 
Apr 2, 2014 2:51PM
The should remove ALL of the artificial ingredients, food colors, etc.  There are other brands that are organic and free of artificial ingredients that are just as good or better.  Trader Joe's brand of organic cream cheeses are delicious and cheaper than Kraft, although they don't have as great a variety as Kraft.  Some other places carry organic cream cheeses (Whole Foods) and have a better variety, however, they are pricier.  
Apr 2, 2014 5:05PM
Another corporate case of selling the sizzle, and not the steak.
Apr 2, 2014 4:47PM
After reading this article, it sure made me crave some good ole Cherry and Strawberry Cheesecake. I think I will have some cheesecake before it gets unaffordable.
Apr 2, 2014 3:26PM
philly cream cheese has gone up in my area 100% in the last couple of months.
Apr 2, 2014 6:17PM

We use Kraft Philly and Off brands.....No preservatives, don't see any chemicals...

Milk, cream, cheese culture and probably thickeners, carob bean or gaur gum...

Seems pretty natural to me, and no chemicals or preserves..

Maybe fruit style is different ?? Never use, only plain.


Organic ?? For this, is just another way to charge more.....PT Barnum..??

Apr 2, 2014 7:05PM
It will still be $hit.  I buy Trader Joe's organic light whipped cream cheese--it's awesome.  And I also don't need a bunch of extra stuff in my cream cheese.  If I want the flavor of lox and cream cheese on my bagel, I use actual lox (also from TJ's).
Apr 2, 2014 4:07PM

Whipped, liquid plastic.  Buy organic for a few cents more.

Pay now, or more when you're older & sick from the

chemicals and additives KRAFT put into this stuff.

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