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PARIS-Europeans think yogurt is so intrinsically healthy that it's hard to imagine a marketer touting a new brand as healthier than others on the market.

But that's just what Alain Wittevrongel, marketing director for Nestle's French milk products affiliate, Chambourcy, did successfully in rolling out the bacteria-enriched LC1 last year.

After four years of studies, Nestle researchers in Switzerland found the lactobacille acidophile bacteria strain helped strengthen the body's natural defenses against viral infection.

Armed with scientific data to back up LC1's claim of protection against infection, Mr. Wittevrongel orchestrated a French introduction in September 1994 that focused initially on specialized health magazines and medical journals. At the end of September, he modified the campaign to a mass-market press and TV campaign, created by Lintas.

Mr. Wittevrongel, 49, calls the response "incredibly positive."

"One measure is that 98% of retailers have put LC1 on their shelves, a remarkable figure even for established brands," he said. "Retailers showed great interest in carrying LC1 and in using it to develop this market segment."

But while satisfied with LC1's consumer response, he was less so with unwanted attention from fidgety French health authorities, worrying that its initial slogan, "LC1 reinforces your natural defenses," could be misunderstood in an era of deadly viruses as offering a wonder-cure in a pot.

Deciding to appease instead of battling the officials, Mr. Wittevrongel tweaked the theme to "LC1 helps your body protect itself," though he expects forthcoming data to permit LC1 to re-adapt the original slogan.

Consumers, however, have been less finicky, giving LC1 a warm reception and a quick 12% of the probiotic sector. The sector, created in 1987 with the introduction of Danone's bifidus-enriched Bio yogurt, grew 24% in the first eight months of 1995. Much of the surge came from the introduction of LC1, which sells for $2.40 for four 125-ml pots. It and other probiotic products are about 60% more expensive than regular yogurt.

To meet LC1's challenge, Danone answered in January with Bio Casei, a similarly enriched product. But marketing figures indicate that it is drawing business from its own Bio brand. Danone is keeping a lower profile and making more modest health claims than Chambourcy which, armed with scientific data, brought out LC1 with a bang.

LC1 is supported with a marketing budget "two to three times larger" than a normal rollout, Mr. Wittevrongel said. It was introduced in France because of market size and consumers' and retailers' openness to innovation.

LC1 arrived in Germany in late 1994 and Portugal, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands this year, with Italy and Switzerland to follow before yearend.

"Our experience shows that we can really develop this segment by educating consumers on health and explaining what LC1 does," Mr. Wittevrongel said. "LC1 opened a path and will continue as a leader."

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