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The $1.4 million price tag for a 30-second spot on the 1998 "Seinfeld" finale actually cost Gardenburger a lot less.

In fact, President-CEO Lyle Hubbard says it was free.

The story behind the veggie burger marketer raising $13 million from institutional investors for an unprecedented TV advertising campaign-and lobbing a huge chunk of that toward one buy-made for such compelling news copy that, quite intentionally, "we got $2 million in free publicity," he claims.

The buy also reaped another important benefit-broadened distribution.

"Advertising on the 'Seinfeld' finale was. . .a real call to action for the [retail] trade" to carry the product, adds Mr. Hubbard, 48.

That was needed because, while the expenditure was huge for Gardenburger, the trade "often sees advertising [outlays] of that magnitude."

The heightened distribution boosted sales from $18 million in 1997 to $100 million today. According to Gardenburger, its share of supermarket-distributed veggie burgers went from 5% to more than 50%; category sales climbed 57% to $135 million.

The strategy to "mainstream" the category was cooked up by Mr. Hubbard and his team, largely comprised of ex-Quaker Oats Co. executives. Mr. Hubbard, a former senior VP-chief marketing officer for Gatorade at Quaker, first became acquainted with Gardenburger when Quaker was looking at acquisitions. Even then, he was taken by the idea that if yogurt and granola bars could go from a health-nut niche to the general market, so could veggie burgers.

"It was risky, but we knew what we were doing," he says.

This year, Mr. Hubbard went back to institutional investors and raised another $32.5 million. About $18 million of that will go to its Gold Effie award-winning campaign from Rubin Postaer & Associates, Chicago.

But the challenge is sustaining profits.

The new cash infusion "gives us a lot of capabilities even if we sustain losses," says Mr. Hubbard.

Not that he's expecting problems.

"We still believe this category is going mainstream," he says. "It just takes

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