Boca Burgers

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Katie Torres has worked with enough products to know a winner when she tastes one, and Boca Burgers tasted like a winner from the first bite.

When she was approached in 1997 by a small management company that had bought Boca Burgers from its founders that year, it didn't take much convincing to sign on as VP-marketing in 1998.

"I knew we could have a home run if we could get enough people to taste the product, and we were right," says Ms. Torres, 37, who left her position as VP-marketing for Mission Foods to join Boca.

As a pioneer in ethnic marketing departments at Helene Curtis and also at Kraft Foods, Ms. Torres had a strong track record niche brands. Boosting Boca Burgers in the $500 million meat-alternatives market was no easy feat, however.

"We put Boca Burgers on tour, giving away samples on the road, at stores and at events, where thousands and thousands of people got to see that this was a different kind of product," she says.

Boca Burgers invaded supermarkets and health food stores nationwide, winning shelf space for the brand and its growing array of products.

Boca Burgers started a 1998 print advertising campaign in cooking and health-food magazines with Chicago Creative Partnership as its agency. By the end of 1999, the print campaign had expanded to $3 million annually, encompassing 17 magazines, mostly targeting women. Out-of-home in key markets also backed sales during the grilling season.

Sales last year doubled to $39 million, with distribution in 75% of supermarkets nationwide.

At the same time, Kraft Foods began nosing around, hungry to acquire the fast-growing company. "We weren't actively looking for a buyer, but we recognized that a company the size of Kraft could have a big impact on a brand like Boca Burgers," she says.

Industry analysts say Kraft could succeed in expanding the brand to more than $100 million in the next three years. FCB Worldwide, Chicago, is now Boca Burgers' agency.

Now, with her partners from Boca Burger, Ms. Torres is looking for another company with a hot property they can acquire and "do it again."

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