SARA LEE PINNING HOPES ON L'EGGS, BRAS AND BAKERY

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CHICAGO-Sara Lee Corp. is banking on a new L'eggs campaign, fresh baked goods, its 1996 Olympic sponsorship and, of course, the Wonderbra to help pump up sales and earnings after a dismal fiscal year.

"The best way to build brands is aggressive advertising, and our new creative is some of the best we've ever done," Donald Franceschini, exec VP in charge of the company's L'eggs and Hanes hosiery brands, said at last week's annual meeting.

He showed the marketer's new "Put on your L'eggs and go" TV campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, designed to showcase the brand's new casual foot- and legwear.

The L'eggs and Hanes brands are a $1.2 billion business in the U.S. alone, but with more women opting for casualwear, hosiery sales in the U.S. and Europe are down, and Sara Lee is restructuring the hosiery business that dragged down its fiscal '94 earnings (AA, June 27).

"We are, to a large degree, the hosiery market, and so our destiny is in our hands," Chairman-CEO John Bryan said at a news conference.

Sara Lee spent a record $1.5 billion on marketing worldwide, a 3% increase, in its fiscal year ended June 30; that was up from about $1 billion in the late '80s. To rebuild its hosiery business, Hanes and L'eggs will get a substantially larger chunk of spending in the coming year.

Mr. Bryan said he's even more optimistic than the people running the business that the Wonderbra, a years-old product that became all the rage in Europe and this year was rolled out in the U.S., will be as big as the marketer's Bali or Playtex Cross Your Heart brands. First-year sales for Wonderbra hit $120 million.

What the Wonderbra may do for Sara Lee's personal products division, fresh baked goods might do for the Sara Lee Bakery unit. Sara Lee last year bought a small California bakery and launched a line of Sara Lee fresh bagels, English muffins and crumpets in those markets; Exec VP Steven McMillan said that in California, fresh baked goods sales have surpassed those for Sara Lee frozen products.

The fresh line is being introduced in the Chicago area, and though Mr. Bryan won't commit to any further rollout, he said "this is not a small idea but a big one. Our Sara Lee frozen business is not very big-in the context of what it can be in the fresh bakery area."

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