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Ben & Jerry's Homemade is boosting its marketing budget to $15 million to promote its entry in the fast-growing sorbet category.

Sales of sorbet, sherbert and ices soared 38% to $161.5 million for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 3, according to Information Resources Inc. Grand Metropolitan's Haagen-Dazs broke into sorbet last March and now has a 21.6% share on sales of $34.9 million.

Ben & Jerry's is boosting its budget to match the $15 million Haagen-Dazs will spend this year on ads via Partners & Shevack, New York. Ben & Jerry's received just $3.9 million of in-house ad support in the first 11 months of last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting, about the same as in 1994. The previous three years' spending totaled less than $70,000.

New sorbet lines are being developed as the superpremium ice cream and frozen yogurt markets have softened. Frozen yogurt category sales fell 5.5% to $585.7 million, while Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs brand ice cream sales dipped 6.1% and 1.5%, respectively.

Ben & Jerry's had another problem. "People were not very happy with its yogurt product since it still had a high fat and calorie content," said Paul Kelly, president, Silvermine Consulting.

Garry Trudeau licensed the goateed "Doonesbury" comic strip character Zonker onto the package for a "Doonesberry" sorbet, a combination of blueberries and raspberries. The six-flavor sorbet line hits stores in March, and Ben & Jerry's shops begin sampling this month.

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