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GREEN SPRINGS UP SOUTH OF BORDER ENCOURAGED BY NAFTA, MARKETERS CATCH ENVIRONMENTAL WAVE IN MEXICO

By Published on .

MEXICO CITY-Taking advantage of growing environmental awareness south of the U.S. border, Mexican companies-selling everything from diapers to fruit juice-are bidding for consumer loyalty by marketing themselves as friends of the earth.

The green movement, having made its mark in the U.S. is now taking root in Mexico, aided by the debate over Mexico's environmental problems that accompanied approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

So far, the most noise has come from Sabritas, PepsiCo's snack company. With great public relations fanfare last November, it announced a switch to 455 non-polluting electric trucks for its Mexico City fleet.

Gerardo Diaz de Leon, Sabritas director of sales operations, said the electric vehicles have been effective. "The impact on our image has been even more favorable than we expected," he said, so much so Sabritas is introducing electric trucks in Mexico's second and third largest cities, Guadalajara and Monterrey.

In January, Grupo Embotellador de Mexico, the country's largest Pepsi bottler, also said it would phase in electric delivery trucks in Mexico City.

Kimberly-Clark took a different approach to marketing disposable diapers with a green touch. Market research told the company that many women considered disposable diapers to be environmentally harmful but mothers didn't want to give them up. So the company developed Kleen Bebe-Huggies Extra Trim, diapers half as thick as other brands, and designed advertising and a promotion, offering cotton baby pants, around an environmental theme in October.

The promotion, in which mothers received the pants in exchange for eight proof or purchase seals and $5, was so successful-K-C sold 250,000 pairs of the baby pants-that it had to be terminated last month because of undersupply, said Jose Luis Bueno, Huggies brand manager.

The company's TV spot, by Paulino Romeroy Asociados, begins with three babies playing with a huge inflatable Planet Earth. Then the image switches to footage of whales to offer cotton, sweatpant-style baby pants. The company donates an undisclosed portion of that to the environmental group United for Conservation.

The pants come with a constant reminder: They are imprinted with pictures of a whale and the earth, they read: "This is our home, help us to look after it."

"Mexico has entered the environmental movement a bit late," said Mr. Luis Bueno."But people are more and more aware when it comes to consumer products."

Baked goods giant Bimbo is targeting children by sponsoring an environmental magazine, Ecologito or Little Ecologist, and its Mexico City delivery trucks run on natural gas. The magazine carries only ads for Bimbo products and is distributed on newsstands with a cover price of $1.

In schools and supermarkets in its Mexican headquarters in Queretaro, Kellogg has sponsored a city cleanup campaign, posting billboards and handing out plastic bags bearing the company logo and environmental exhortations. The billboards, created by J. Walter Thompson, read: "Kellogg: Working together to protect the environment." Overall handling of the promotion is done in-house.

So far, green claims by Mexican companies haven't attracted the scrutiny that dampened enthusiasm for similar efforts several years ago in the U.S. Marketers there were often lambasted by watchdog groups that charged companies were simply paying lip service to environmentalism while they went on polluting the environment or making false or misleading green claims.

"Ecologists here have many more problems to worry about than green products, such as smog and deforestation," said Arturo Abuanza, director of operations, Simple Green de Mexico.

Tentative steps are, however, being made to police claims. Fearing some companies will slap an environmental label on any product to spur sales, environmentalist Susana Guzman, a spokeswoman for the Autonomous Institute of Ecological Research think tank, said she would like to see an official green certification developed.

Ms. Guzman said she also favors tax incentives for those developing competitively priced green products in Mexico since even the most environmentally conscious consumer isn't yet willing to pay more to buy green. Said Ms. Guzman: "People's wallets determine what they buy."

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