Frozen Yogurt Wars Heat up Between Red Mango, Pinkberry

Rivals Taps Ad, Branding Shops as Rivals Battle for Share

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Red Mango is throwing down the gauntlet in the "authentic frozen yogurt" wars. The chain has hired the Richards Group, Dallas, in a seven-figure deal to create online, in-store, public relations and event marketing. Print and outdoor work will likely be added in 2009.
Red Mango got its start in South Korea years before archrival Pinkberry.
Red Mango got its start in South Korea years before archrival Pinkberry.

The chain's announcement comes just weeks after news that archrival Pinkberry hired branding firm Bulldog Drummond, San Diego.

The latest So-Cal fad
The chains market a relatively new frozen-yogurt product that became overwhelmingly popular in Los Angeles in 2006 and has spread to other major cities like New York, Las Vegas and Chicago. The concept generally includes two flavors -- plain and green tea -- and a variety of fresh fruit or cereal toppings. The yogurt itself tastes like frozen plain yogurt, but a little sweeter. It's fat-free, relatively low-calorie and much more expensive than what's offered at traditional frozen yogurt chains like I Can't Believe It's Yogurt, where it's easy to get out for less than $5.

Pinkberry was first in the U.S. market, but Red Mango got its start in South Korea years before. There is a plethora of mom-and-pop imitators, particularly in Southern California, with names like Blue Mango, Berri Good and Mr. Snowberri.

And that's what's driving Red Mango to hire an agency. "For us it was a competitive decision because there are so many copycats out there. We wanted to educate the customer on why Red Mango is different," said Dan Kim, president, Red Mango USA.

Red Mango's yogurt generally has a higher active-culture count, is gluten-free and certified kosher. It's also creamier than its rivals, many of which have a tarter taste. The chain opened its first U.S. store in mid-2007 and should have 50 by the end of this year.

The Starbucks of yogurt?
Mr. Kim and Red Mango's chief marketer, Jim Notarnicola, emphasized that they'd like to do for frozen yogurt what Starbucks did for coffee.
Dan Kim
Dan Kim

But Starbucks' firebrand Howard Schultz has invested in its rival, Pinkberry, through his venture-capital firm, Maveron. Pinkberry's VP-marketing, Todd Putman, said his company worked with Mr. Schultz and Starbucks to develop the coffee chain's Sorbetto product, currently being tested in Southern California. He said his chain's decision to go with a branding firm, rather than tap an agency of record, was because "Pinkberry has gotten to where it is because of word-of-mouth."

"I very much doubt we're going to get into a traditional relationship with an advertising agency," he added.

Pinkberry now has 69 stores in New York and Southern California.

With many consumers still clueless about what the "new" frozen yogurt is, much less the difference between brands, there's still a lot of work to be done. "These are two brands that are going to shape this category," Mr. Notarnicola said. "And I think we can look forward to good work on both sides."
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