Stonyfield ups ad ante

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Stonyfield Farm plans to invest considerably more in traditional media next year in an effort to define its yogurt brand's central point of difference: organic.

With organic foods on the rise among mainstream consumers, the primarily Northeastern Stonyfield brand has seen sales skyrocket 27% to $80 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, according to Information Resources Inc. The phenomenal rise amid a mostly slow-growth food industry caught the attention of competitor Group Danone, marketer of Dannon yogurt, which recently agreed to take a 40% stake in the family-run company. Now, Stonyfield president-CEO Gary Hirshberg is poised to take his company, and his marketing budget, to the next level.

"Organic is no longer just appreciated by those who wear Birkenstocks and berets," Mr. Hirshberg said. "Consumers want the choice, but if we don't tell them we're the alternative, they're not going to know."

Stonyfield has risen to the No. 4 player in the $2 billion refrigerated yogurt category among heavy hitters General Mills, Dannon and Kraft Foods on little more than a smattering of print media and socially-conscious grass-roots efforts likened to those of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry's. The company started advertising only in 1999 and has since then spent a mere $4.5 million, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Now, free from developing the partnership with Danone (a two-year process), Mr. Hirshberg said he intends to assess the marketing budget and determine plans to be implemented in early 2002, including most likely the addition of TV and radio. While Danone will aid Stonyfield with production capabilities, the two will remain independent in terms of marketing; in fact the two are prohibited by the Federal Trade Commission from collaborating on brand-building efforts. Eflicks Media, Boston, handles Stonyfield's advertising, though Mr. Hirshberg said the company may need to bring in others depending on the scope and scale of the efforts.

Upping marketing is part of Mr. Hirshberg's plan to expand the brand beyond its 45% of U.S. supermarkets to become the No. 3 player in the category. To do that, it must surpass Kraft's $170 million Breyers, sales of which fell 5.3% for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, according to IRI. General Mills' Yoplait leads the category with 16% growth to $739 million; Dannon ranks second with sales up 6.8% to $603 million for the same time period.

"Success is addictive, and though Gary has built the brand through innovation and a lot of word-of-mouth, now he needs to bring in the big guns," said Simon Williams, chairman of Sterling Group, a brand identity firm.

In the near term, Stonyfield will forge ahead with a print effort next month in Time Inc.'s People magazine for its three kids' brands-Planet Protectors, Yo Squeeze and Yo Baby-that have recently been converted to certified organic. The kids campaign and a subsequent effort for women-targeted YoSelf and O'Soy will feature Internet health experts.

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