Marketing 50

Kashi

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When David de Souza hands out his business card, he is not-so-subtly aiming to bring new users into the Kashi franchise of natural, healthful cereals. After all, the cards of the VP-marketing and innovation-like those of the rest of Kashi Co.'s 43 employees-bear coupons on the back for just that grassroots-style recruitment.

Despite ownership by cereal behemoth Kellogg Co., the standalone unit's skyrocketing sales (up double digits for the last two years vs. flat sales for cereal overall) can be attributed to just such homegrown tactics. A picture of the team of young zealots (average age under 30) hangs over the cereal aisle in many health food stores, sent there as part of the company's point-of-sale materials along with a mission statement, which outlines a commitment to helping people lead healthier lives.

"Kashi is very human," says Mr. de Souza, 34, who joined the team in May from Kellogg. Although Kashi does advertise its GoLean diet cereal and Heart to Heart lineup, much of what has helped build the brand to $124 million in sales is word-of-mouth. A small group of loyal users is "motivated to tell their friends about Kashi," Mr. de Souza says, especially because they have been pleasantly surprised that the brand, despite fears to the contrary, "tastes good."

Although its largest percentage of sales comes from the natural foods channel, distribution is expanding rapidly to mainstream outlets including Wal-Mart, with sampling efforts crucial to getting the word out to those new, more skeptical consumers. Advertising, handled by Amazon Advertising, San Francisco, has grown to drive awareness as the brand expands and Kashi actively recruits health professionals as brand champions.

"Health and wellness is now the mainstream mantra," Mr. de Souza says, "and we need to stay ahead of the pack."

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