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Spurred by Gardenburger's successful national ad push, competitors are launching the battle of the veggie burgers this summer.

Boca Burger and Worthington Foods are breaking new campaigns, a year after Gardenburger boldly marched into the prime-time mainstream with an unprecedented $13 million gamble aimed at vegetarians and carnivores alike. The goal is to grab a larger share of the increasingly competitive $135 million meatless burger category.

"We basically view Gardenburger as our new best friend," said Katie Torres, VP-marketing at Boca Burger. "What they did in effect was give credibility to the meatless burger category. We've all benefited from that."

Boca Burger's ads will run in June issues of cooking, health and women's magazines, as well as on trains in New York and Washington. Billboards in Chicago, Boston and other large metro markets also will support, Ms. Torres said.


The company will spend almost $4 million this year, compared with about $500,000 in 1998, Ms. Torres said. Chicago Creative Partnership devised the campaign, which features diametrically opposed consumers -- a health nut and couch potato -- who only seem to agree on their love of Boca Burgers.

Worthington Foods, which sells its meat alternatives under the Morningstar Farms and Harvest Burger brands, plans to spend more than $5 million on its first national campaign, consisting of magazine ads and two 30-second cable and network TV spots, a spokeswoman said. Northlich Stolley LaWarre, Cincinnati, handles the effort that breaks today.

The Worthington TV advertising features a man in one spot and a woman in the other trying to surprise friends and family with the fact they're eating meat-free buffalo wings, corn dogs and burgers.

Now the market leader, Gardenburger kicked off a 15-week TV campaign April 12. Its ads will run on network TV during the day and prime time. The company said it will spend $18.2 million on advertising, up 40% from last year. The creative, from Rubin Postaer & Associates, Chicago, reprises last year's effort but more executions may be added, a spokeswoman said.


Gardenburger's 30-second, $1.75 million spot in the final episode of NBC's "Seinfeld" last year helped increase awareness of meatless burgers, boosting sales of the category by 57% to $135 million, according to A.C. Nielsen Co. data cited by Gardenburger. The spokeswoman said grocery store sales of its brand tripled after the spot ran, from $18 million in 1997 to $55 million.

Gardenburger is the single best selling meat-free burger brand with sales of $47.6 million last year, but Worthington is the category leader in meat alternatives, with more than $63 million in sales, according to Information Resources Inc. Boca sales last year were $15 million.

Ms. Torres said that because only half of the nation's grocery stores carry Boca Burgers, aggressive advertising should help double market share to more than 20%.

"Years ago, it was enough to just be on the shelves, and people who didn't eat meat would come and find you," she said. "Today, that's changing. More and more consumers are aware of healthy alternatives, but they need to be informed about

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