FRESCHETTA: TOM BIERBAUM

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Certainly it was Etta who fueled a 66% rise in Freschetta Rising Crust pizza last year. But she had a little help from Tom Bierbaum.

Mr. Bierbaum, national brand group manager at Tony's Pizza Service, led the team that drove Freschetta, a $108 million brand, to a growth rate more than double that of rival Kraft Food's DiGiorno last year. Even though DiGiorno's sales were $291.6 million for the 52 weeks ended Dec. 27, 1998, its dollar sales rise was up a comparatively small 29%, according to Information Resources Inc.

That was accomplished through senior citizen sampling lady Etta, who appears in Freschetta's ad campaign doling out pizza in unlikely spots like beauty parlors and bachelor parties. Mr. Bierbaum also put Etta to work on the publicity circuit, plying Freschetta at parades and talk shows.

The mnemonic device-Etta rhymes with Freschetta-is "ownable and very memorable," says Mr. Bierbaum, 39, with the added plus of "great name retention."

Etta debuted in October 1998 in a campaign from Bozell Kamstra, Minneapolis, who retained the Freschetta business after a review of the estimated $8 million to $10 milion account.

Mr. Bierbaum also sent Freschetta on the road with a fleet of eight sampling vans that delivered product in "several hundred major markets."

The vans served up new flavor varieties, which played a big role in rising sales of rising crust. Mr. Bierbaum's group introduced an eight-inch pizza, a Thai Chicken variety, a Garlic Chicken with White Sauce and, in early fall, a Sauce Stuffed Crust, which Mr. Bierbaum calls "first to world."

Sampling works, says Mr. Biernbaum. "We've put a huge emphasis on it, because once consumers try us they stay with us, converting to our brand."

And the attention to rising crust has benefited the category, which grew almost 9% last year.

Next up is expansion; don't be surprised if Etta starts serving up other Italian

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