'Master' plan: Bestfoods strategy results in shakeup

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As Unilever Bestfoods tries to meet its parent company's demands for more master brands, it's undergone a sweeping reorganization that includes an 8% staff reduction and the termination of at least three marketing directors.

The June shakeup, which will result in cuts of 130 marketing, sales and finance positions this year, is designed to help organize marketing teams by brand rather than category as part of the unit's attempt to create fewer, bigger brands, said David Blanchard, VP-research and development, who has spearheaded the effort.

Hellmann's mayonnaise is next to get the master-brand treatment, as Unilever Bestfoods begins to talk to shops outside its roster agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Worldwide, for help to extend the Hellmann's brand into Wish-Bone salad dressings and into new categories.

"[Unilever Bestfoods] still has a way to go," with its marketing, a Wall Street food analyst said. The analyst noted that a top-management change late last year-CEO Neil Beckerman was replaced by Unilever executive John Rice-combined with the round of cost-cutting, is indicative of the division's trouble growing its top line. "At the end of the day, they still feel they have too many brands and too few growth initiatives," he said.

revised numbers

Although parent Unilever's 4-year-old plan to focus on master brands initially called for trimming its global brand portfolio by 75% to 400, Unilever North America President Charles Strauss has since said only 200 may get advertising support, and an executive close to the company said the real goal is to get to 50 "power" brands that merit heavy ad levels. Mr. Blanchard said that actual numbers of brands are not important, rather he stressed that "every brand in a given country is to have a certain size and level of media support."

Hellmann's ascension to master brand over Wish-Bone will happen in much the same way Bestfoods combined Five Brothers pasta sauce under the Bertolli banner and other Unilever divisions have combined brands under the Suave, Dove and All banners.

Last year, Unilever Bestfoods spent $128 million in measured media on 11 brands, including $16.5 million on Hellmann's and $17.8 million on Wish-Bone, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, and company insiders believe even fewer brands will be supported heavily this year. The thrust of spending will go toward innovation under new master brands, such as Hellmann's extension of a new Dippin' Sauce line and a test in New England of Bertolli frozen dinners.

Despite creative kudos for its male-dancer campaign created for Hellmann's by Lowe, New York, the brand team is talking with WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York-which helped drive Unilever's expansion of Dove-to develop ideas for Hellmann's. Interpublic's McCann-Erickson Worldwide offered some initial ideas, but has dropped out of the discussions. (Read more: AdAge.com QwikFIND aao82c)

contributing: jack neff and lisa sanders

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