Dannon resets lines

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With its lead in refrigerated yogurt recently eclipsed by General Mills' Yoplait, Dannon Co. is unleashing a variety of heavily advertised new or improved products to regain its title.

First, the company is relaunching the Dannon Light franchise as Light 'n Fit, backed by a $10 million ad campaign kicking off this month. Next month, one-third of the country will be introduced to a creamy, milder line aptly called la Creme. Also in the works is the launch of a fruit and yogurt smoothie line called Frusion.

The efforts are all part of new VP-marketing Eric Leventhal's strategy to get Dannon products into consumers' hands more frequently. With the new products, he hopes to best current category leader Yoplait, which had sales of $660 million for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 17 vs. Dannon's $579 million, according to Information Resources Inc.

To extend its reach and capitalize on the explosion in smoothie sales, Dannon is launching three varieties of fruit `n' yogurt smoothies exclusively into Northeastern and Southern Californian 7-11 stores as well as into colleges, stadiums and workplace cafeterias. The introduction strategy for the hourglass-shaped, 10 oz. bottles of smoothies, which retail for $1.49, comes from Mr. Leventhal's previous experience at Coca-Cola Co. and is Dannon's attempt to grab untapped away-from-home sales. Other companies, such as Cadbury Schweppes' Snapple unit's Whipper Snapple and PepsiCo's Tropicana expected to introduce a new smoothie, likewise are trying to "crack the code" for a successful package-good version of the smoothie, Mr. Leventhal said.

But Dannon will focus its greatest efforts on its biggest franchise, Dannon Light. Marketing for the newly reformulated Light 'n Fit-the largest for the Light line in recent history-will veer away from the line's previous low-calorie, low-fat focus. Instead, it will emphasize the new Light 'n Fit's seven vitamins and minerals, including the addition of Vitamins A and D for calcium absorption.

A new TV spot from WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, features two businesswomen on a lunch break enjoying Light 'n Fit. To show how the yogurt helps women be more fit and vital and how, as the tagline asserts, "Light just got fitter," the two break into a one-on-one "basketball" game with an empty yogurt package. Print ads starting in March will offer various quippy questions and multiple- choice answers, such as "Which one of these is loaded with good stuff and which one of these is just loaded?" above pictures of various wealthy women and a package of Light 'n Fit.

New la Creme, which has started shipping to Northeast markets from Maine to Virginia, was developed based on research showing many consumers avoid yogurt because they think it's too tart, Mr. Leventhal said. To bring in those infrequent users, la Creme is made with a touch of cream and is positioned in an estimated $4 million TV and radio campaign as good even for dessert. The tagline is "Ooh la la Creme."

A TV spot that breaks Feb. 12 features a man being served la Creme on a silver tray by a sexy French maid who seductively asks him, "Creamy, oui? Tres mild, oui? Not, how you say, tart?" when two teenage girls walk in and catch them in mid-embrace. "My parents are so weird," one says to the other.

Dannon also will increase media spending for its Dannon Danimals kids' franchise by roughly 12% in 2001 with extensive print targeted at moms as well as new kid-targeted TV. Dannon spent $25 million in measured media for its brands from January through September, with $7 million of that spent on Danimals, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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