LITTLETON - A local company has added some humor to its launch of a new and improved version of its signature product, with an eye to taking an even bigger bite out of the insect bite treatment market.
Tender Corp. on Tuesday will officially roll out After Bite: The Itch Eraser - a topical lotion contained in a marker-like applicator that the company says will instantly stop the itch caused by the sting of mosquitoes, bees and wasps, biting flies and other insects.
The launch will culminate a two-month social-media campaign to introduce the product and give the public an opportunity to name its "spokesbug."
The bug - which looks like a cross between a white rabbit and a bumble bee, complete with floppy ears - is the star of "The National Bug Report" and will educate families "on the good, bad and interesting world of insects."
"As the leading insect bite treatment brand, we want to make the world of bugs fun for parents and children," said Jason Cartwright, CEO of Tender Corp., which was founded in 1975 by Kenneth Grout.
Tender Corp. hopes the spokesbug will become an icon like the Geico gecko or Planters' Mr. Peanut, said Cartwright, as well as the "go-to expert for all things related to insects."
The naming contest for the spokesbug, which is dressed in an old-fashioned aviator's hat and goggles, begins Tuesday. Details are available at facebook.com/theitcheraser. The winner will receive an outdoor gear package valued at more than $3,000.
The spokesbug will become the public face of Tender Corp., which currently has 172 employees, nearly all of whom work at the company's headquarters on Burndy Road.
In addition to After Bite, Tender Corp. also makes Ben's and Natrapel insect repellents, as well as the first-aid and emergency preparedness brands Adventure Medical Kits, Easy Care First Aid, Survive Outdoors Longer and After Burn. The company also makes After Sting, a product to provide relief from jelly fish stings.
Cumulatively, Cartwright said Tender Corp. manufactures 120 items in Littleton and ships them across the United States, as well as to 40 other countries. The company's packaging is printed in 16 languages.
Cartwright, who lives in Landaff and is a member of the extended Grout family, said Tender Corp. had a name even before it had a product.
Kenneth Grout, according to his obituary, was an inveterate inventor who co-founded Actuator Products Corp. in 1959. The company developed and manufactured several aircraft and automotive devices, including an in-flight refueling mechanism. Later, through the Grout Manufacturing Co., he obtained a patent for a liquid-paste dispensing tool and still later, developed and received a patent for the static mixer.
In 1973, Grout and his wife, Merle, moved to Littleton, where Merle liked to garden and Kenneth became intrigued with solving one of the banes of his wife's hobby: bites from black flies.
Consulting with his neighbors, Grout eventually came up with the Tender Bite formula, which now is "new and improved" thanks to the addition of baking soda. The product is also know as "Grandma's home remedy."
Cartwright said Tender Corp. and its products represent about 70 percent of the bite-treatment marketplace, and with the introduction of the "new and improved" product, he expects that share to grow.
Fourteen years ago, when Cartwright and the current ownership group came in, "We were at $6 million in gross sales, and this year, we should top $40 million. Over the years, even through the recession, we've continued to grow and expand the company."
Tender Corp. supports its hometown and surrounding communities through efforts that in the past have included helping to build a swimming pool in Lisbon and a playground in Landaff. In August, the company will sponsor a 5K run to raise money for the revitalization of the Mount Eustis Ski Area in Littleton.
The company also supports employees who are volunteers with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and who participate in community theater and the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.
Although Tender Corp.'s spokesbug and new campaign are intended to coincide with the start of New Hampshire's 2014 bug season, there is another season that the company also keeps an eye on - baseball.
If you look closely, you'll see the After Bite logo on the first and third baselines at JetBlue Park, the winter home of the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.
"It's another way that we're getting the message out," said Cartwright.