BRAND IN DEMAND: Yoplait's revenge is portable yogurt that kids slurp up

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the executives at Yoplait knew they needed a big idea to spice up sales, but they couldn't have predicted Go-Gurt, their kid-friendly yogurt in a tube, would single-handedly vault the brand from its second-rate status to overtake longtime category leader Dannon Co.

When General Mills bought the Yoplait brand in the mid '70s from Michigan Cottage Cheese, the refrigerated yogurt category was made up of a few regional brands sold in health food stores. The early challenge was to create a national brand that would become a staple on traditional grocery shelves. General Mills managed to do that, but not nearly as effectively as Dannon did.

TRAILING DANNON

Yoplait had trailed Dannon consistently since its inception, and Dannon's sales volume was nearly double that of Yoplait as recently as 1995, according to AC Nielsen Corp. figures provided by General Mills. But in 2000 the tables finally turned. Yoplait finished the fiscal year ended in May with a 33% share of the overall yogurt category vs. Dannon's 26%, a feat that can be pegged quite simply to Go-Gurt.

Realizing two years ago that the category -- and its Yoplait brand in particular -- could benefit from an influx of news and innovation, General Mills seized upon the new product breakthrough of a slurpable kids yogurt in a tube. Even before it was introduced nationally last September, the new brand had reached $37 million in sales in its initial West Coast and Midwest markets. Now, Go-Gurt posts sales of $103 million, a meteoric rise reflected in Yoplait's 22% sales growth for the year ended June 18, according to Information Resources Inc.

To generate awareness and trial for Go-Gurt among kids, General Mills put together a pretty typical launch effort that according to John Haugen, marketing director for Yoplait USA, includes "good fundamentals in terms of advertising development, product sampling that's been impactful, and tying in to things that are pertinent to our target."

THE HIP FACTOR

A $10 million ad campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, pointed out the hipness of Go-Gurt for the 8- to 12-year-old set with an eight-week run of TV spots featuring the tagline, "Lose the spoon."

But a crucial aspect of the marketing was reaching outside of the home to talk to kids about the Go-Gurt brand at their favorite events and locations.

"One of the essences of what Go-Gurt is all about is yogurt on the go, so you have to reach out to consumers when they're on the go and give them a sample," Mr. Haugen said. "If you deliver Go-Gurt to someone's kitchen, you undersell the benefits of something that's made to be portable."

Understanding the importance of portability for all consumers, not just kids, is a key driver behind General Mills latest twist on its now-leading yogurt brand: Yoplait Expresse.

Unlike Go-Gurt, which appeals to kids with way-out flavors including Chill Out Cherry and Cotton Candy, the new tube-style yogurt is for adults. It reached Western markets last month, and features traditional yogurt flavors such as strawberry, Harvest Peach and raspberry.

Like its kid-targeted counterpart, Expresse is intended to be frozen, then thawed for use later in the day, or eaten straight out of the refrigerator or freezer. The brand is handled by DDB Worldwide, Chicago.

By extending the Go-Gurt premise to adults, General Mills is attempting to build its share of the adult yogurt segment.

STILL BEHIND

Dannon still leads that segment with a 27% share, compared to Yoplait's 23%, Nielsen figures show.

"We have high expectations for the product," Mr. Haugen said. The challenge now, he said, is proving to retailers that the new yogurt products warrant the additional real estate on the shelf. But with consumer lifestyles demanding healthy, tasty and portable products, the outlook for the latest Yoplait products is positive.

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