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CARACAS-The story is a familiar one in Latin America. A local company, shielded for decades by tariffs, quickly vanishes in the onslaught of seasoned multinationals drawn to the region by liberalized entry rules.

Due in part to VP-Marketing Adolfo Camacho, Venezuela's Mavesa is one exception to that rule.

"We're a national company that has the corporate culture of a multinational," he says of Mavesa, Venezuela's largest national producer of food and soap. With clever marketing tactics, the company is able to hold a commanding lead in each of its major categories: Margarine, mayonnaise, processed cheese, vinegar and selected sauces, such as mustard and cocktail sauce. The company also has the largest share of the laundry bar soap market.

These results are all the more impressive considering Mavesa's chief competition includes international heavyweights such as Kraft, CPC International and Unilever.

Mavesa's strategy of keeping product prices low, along with an international push and an estimated $4 million ad budget helped the company's 1993 sales volume increase 12% to $190 million, and profits rise 43% to $20 million.

More surprising, shares held or increased during the 1990-1993 period, when competing multinationals stormed the market. Since then, several local companies have failed or been bought out by multinationals. Nacional Beer for example was unable to fight off U.S. competition from Miller and Anheuser-Busch, was bought out by Brazil's Brahma. And local fruit juice marketer Yukery lost so much share to Ocean Spray Cranberries it sold out to another U.S. company, H.J. Heinz.

Not so Mavesa. Helped by two new products, Chiffon breakfast margarine and Mavesa de Maiz, a health-oriented corn oil margarine, Mavesa gained share in the category, going from 85% in 1990 to 86.6% in 1993. Mavesa's share in mayonnaise jumped more radically from 31% in 1990 to 54.4% last year. And in processed cheese, Mavesa gained from a 38% category share to 47.5% in 1993, partly on the strength of a new, pizza flavored cheese.

Helping Mavesa turn back the international challenge is a simple but straightforward ad campaign stressing low price and quality overseen by Mr. Camacho and executed by Mavesa's three agencies: Corpa, Fischer-Grey and Concept.

As a result of a July 1993 deal in which Mavesa swapped its fats and oils operations with Cargill de Venezuela's mayonnaise, vinegar, vegetable, sauces and pickles business plus $54.5 million, Mavesa rolled out, moving into Colombia, a fellow Andean Pact member, earlier this year.

An ad effort devised under Mr. Camacho has seen Mavesa capture more than 5% of neighboring Colombia's mayonnaise market since entering seven months ago. Encouraged by this gain, Mavesa intends to introduce the rest of its products to Colombia this year. Mr. Camacho describes the effort as basic and no frills, stressing product quality and freshness.

"Every product has a different message," Mr. Camacho says. "In margarines, we have several brands. For some, we stress the health aspect; for others, the taste and quality."

Price also helped build sales. Mavesa mayonnaise, for example, sells for about 15 cents below Kraft and CPC International brands. With couponing, its prices dip as much as 45 cents below the competition.

But Mr. Camacho says there's even more to be accomplished.

"One of the company's greatest responsibilities in the immediate future lies in marketing," he said. "We must now be prepared to achieve maximum efficiency in marketing and sales both at home and abroad."

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