Mmm! It's the great Spam marketing challenge

This month, hungry advertisers pitch for what is possibly the most blighted, image-challenged product, bar the Skoda car: Spam.

It has been a running joke both before and (long) after Monty Python gave us the Spam-and-everything gag in the Seventies and schoolchildren thwacked each other with soggy Spam fritters.

An attempt earlier this year to save Spam's bacon ended on the scrapheap when the American company Hormel Foods launched a sizzling court battle against Spa'am, wild boar star of the film Muppet Treasure Island. Describing the character as "evil in porcine form", Spam's American inventors claimed its association with Britain's apparently finest processed meat threatened to be the final undoing of the wartime staple. The judge did not agree.

Now all those image problems are bound for the waste disposal unit as Spam plans to move away from its current consumers - young mothers and children - and hits on its new target audience: young carnivores.

Over on home turf, where 3.8 cans of Spam are consumed every second, the 90 per cent pork, water-free product has (allegedly) achieved cult status and its product merchandise is now being copied here in the UK, where 10.5 million cans are consumed a year at an average pounds 1.19 for 340g. Baseball caps (pounds 2.95), T-shirts, (pounds 4.90) and jogging shorts (pounds 6.90) bearing the Spam logo are already available.

As the biggest advertising challenge since Marmite was turned macho is launched, we asked culinary experts and punters what they think of this much-maligned national delicacy.

Simon Hopkinson, chef: "Heaven knows what is in it - it becomes a completely different thing when you heat it. I can't think that it would add much to a dish, though I really used to like it as a child. I have fond memories of it being deep fried in batter."

Matthew Harris, chef, Bibendum: "I only remember eating it at school, sitting on a plate with a puddle of grease around it with tinned tomatoes. My Spam days are over."

Emily Green, food critic: "Spam is a food icon. It is one of those wonderful words that has less to do with the processed meat itself and has acquired a cultural meaning of its own. As for the meat, I really don't know what it is, except that it is really nasty. I think it is pork with lots of salty water and slimy sluice."

Dell Gibbons, dietician, Slimming magazine: "In moderation, it won't do any harm. Canned ham is not particularly high in calories. Eaten in a sandwich with low-fat spread and lots of salad, it could be part of a healthy, calorie-controlled diet."

Esme Johnson, 24, fan: "There are few things nicer than a Spam fritter, though I wouldn't go out of my way for cold Spam. Aah! Spam fritters and chips! If someone gave me one now I'd be delighted. Nothing made me happier when I was a child."

Peter Jameson, 42, turncoat: "At school we had Spam served up as cold meat made hot. The next day it was hot meat made cold. I wouldn't eat it now. I'd prefer corned beef. Spam is such an industrial product. It's junk."

Marie Sampson, 60, former addict: "It was part of the wartime diet. It was quite delicious and moist. I was actually called Spam-face because I would eat three or four slices walking from one shop to the next. It was such a treat. I must admit I don't buy it today."

Rob Lucas, marketing manager, Newforge Foods: "It is about time we killed the Spam joke. We often have Spam at monthly management meetings. We have it on pizzas, in sandwiches or on cocktail sticks with onion and pineapple. It always goes down very well. In a way you could say it is a delicacy."

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