A better way to advertise? Dairy processors discover the effectiveness of touting their products against the next guy’s

A better way to advertise? Dairy processors discover the effectiveness of touting their products against the next guy’s

Christine Stube

A Better Way to Advertise?

Dairy processors discover the effectiveness of touting their products against the next guy’s

The “I’m better than you are” attitude that has pervaded modern advertising for everything from beer to telephone systems, may be effective in keeping consumers interested in the dairy industry.

Dairy processors are taking notice of consumers’ growing health-consciousness, and of the bad rap the dairy industry is getting from all sides about dairy products being high in fat and cholesterol.

These manufacturers realize that some consumers who enjoy dairy products are leaving the market altogether solely because they are concerned about their health. So using all the creativity they can muster up, dairy companies have developed new lowfat, low-cholesterol products and are beginning to compete–with themselves.

Parkay, perhaps the granddaddy of comparative advertising in the dairy industry, made a name for itself by comparing its healthful attributes with the drawbacks of butter. Now other companies, both from within and outside of the industry, have developed strategies to position their alternatives against the real thing.

Land O’Lakes, Arden Hills, Minn., has several products on the market that are touted as having all the benefits of dairy products without the undesired traits. These line extensions serve to give consumers a broader range of products from which to choose, says Julie Rose, promotion services analyst for Land O’Lakes. The use of comparison advertising, she explains, simply gives consumers a point of reference. They already know what the traditional products are; the ads help them establish the differences.

“We’re looking to capitalize on the growth of the `light’ phase,” says Brian Siska, marketing manager for Land O’Lakes’ Lean Cream (soon to be renamed Light Sour Cream Dairy Blend for marketing reasons). “And the best way to do that is by comparison … comparing the product with something the consumer understands.”

Siska says the comparison advertising used in free-standing inserts for Lean Cream only helps the dwindling sour cream category because it offers a choice to those who may stop eating traditional sour cream for health reasons. “We are going to give normal sour cream users who get a twinge of guilt when they eat the product an alternative.”

Siska says it is important for the dairy industry to keep current with the changing needs of consumers or they will stop eating dairy products altogether. Since Lean Cream’s introduction in 1985 as the first-ever lowfat sour cream, about 20 other such products have popped up, Siska says, and now lowfat products make up about 7 percent of the total sour cream category. This kind of success leads Siska to believe that comparison advertising works.

Comparison advertising is also the preferred route for New Castle, Pa.-based Soyco Foods, maker of Soymage natural cheese alternative. Soyco developed its “sour-cream-style” Soymage and its “soft-cream-cheese-style” Soyco for the health-conscious who have stopped eating dairy products, says Al Morini, vice president of sales. Although the Soyco products are 100 percent dairy-free (made with tofu, soy protein isolate and soy oil) they are compared directly with dairy products.

“The philosophy of the company is to pursue the no-cholesterol, nolactose aspects of our products,” Morini says. And to fully explain those virtues, the Soyco products have to be shown alongside the traditional products, he says.

Morini stresses, though, that Soyco does not cannibalize dairy sales. “We’re not here to replace the dairy business. We’re picking up the consumers who stopped eating dairy foods. It’s amazing the number of people who have left the category. Our research shows that one in every six people has a [health] problem with dairy products,” he adds.

Kristen McNutt, president of Consumer Choices Unlimited, an Evanston, Ill.-based consulting service for health marketing, government relations and consumer affairs, says some cannibalization of traditional sales can boost business in the long run. “If profitability is greater with lowfat products, then cannibalization by these products is good,” she says. In addition, she says, comparison advertising can be educational and lead consumers to make more informed purchases.

Giving consumers a choice was the idea behind Rick Schneider’s use of comparative positioning. Instead of comparing Country Morning Blend with butter, Schneider, also a marketing manager for Land O’Lakes, put the 40 percent butter, 60 percent corn oil margarine product up against butter substitutes.

Schneider says the substitutes did not offer consumers the taste and quality of butter because they do not contain real butter. Country Morning Blend, he explains, is better tasting than the alternatives and is still healthy. “If consumers want products with less cholesterol, that’s fine. But they should look at the alternatives. Country Morning Blend was made to be compared with products that purport to have butter in them,” Schneider says. The ads aim to take sales away from substitutes that do not contain butter.

“People are bombarded with health issues, and unfortunately even though there is dissension amongst experts about cholesterol, consumers believe dairy products are bad for them. So they are switching to these substitutes,” he says.

Bronson Lane, executive director of the Dairy and Food Nutrition Council of Florida in Orlando, agrees that the issue of which foods are good and which are not so good is yet to be defined. “Groups such as the American Heart Association do not have enough scientific data to prove that dairy products are harmful. If consumers are foregoing dairy products, at least the lowfat category can bring them back,” Lane says, adding that comparison advertising can be effective in luring consumers to dairy foods.

Dairy promotion organizations are trying to pick up the slack left by the medical profession. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board (WMMB) in Madison, for instance, is working on a campaign to educate consumers about lowfat dairy products using less competitive comparisons.

WMMB will target the media in a plan to give information on just what lowfat products, specifically cheese, are all about, says Andrea Neu, director of trade and consumer relations. Using traditional cheeses as comparisons, WMMB will explain to food editors what lowfat cheeses provide in terms of taste, texture and use, Neu says.

The National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (NDB) has taken a similar educational tack for butter, but also has become somewhat aggressive in comparing butter to margarine. The organization has tried to address the public’s perception that margarine is a diet butter product, says Kathryn McHugh, NDB manager of advertising programs. “Margarine is not a pure, fresh dairy product at all,” she says. In this vein, NDB has attempted to curb sliding butter sales by appealing to customers’ desire for natural ingredients.

McHugh says NDB also is coming out strongly on another comparison–natural sources of calcium versus calcium supplements. “You just can’t switch a glass of milk for a pill,” she explains. The group is attributing its new ads featuring dairy products and the slogan, “Calcium. Au naturel,” to the recent decrease in supplement sales.

Product identification and the desire to set a product apart from the traditional are other reasons for using comparison advertising, as representatives from Vermont Butter and Cheese Co. Inc. and Green’s Dairy explain.

Vermont Butter and Cheese, Websterville, Vt., manufactures, among other products, Fromage Blanc, a lightly whipped, skim milk product. It is marketed as a no-fat, no-salt cheese alternative to cream cheese. Company vice president Bob Reese says this type of product is well-known in Europe but not in the United States. “We are striving to build consumer awareness of the product in the United States by comparing it with familiar products,” he says.

Advertisements for Fromage Blanc boast, for instance, that the product has three times the protein of an equal serving of yogurt, half the calories of cream cheese and no artificial ingredients. The ads also suggest the product mimics cream cheese’s consistency: “Silky and smooth in texture, its spreadability makes it an ideal low-fat, low-calorie alternative to cream cheese.”

Reese explains that the company could not afford to spend millions of dollars educating consumers about the healthful attributes of the specialty product, so it works with what consumers already know. For example, the ads offer serving suggestions such as, “Substitute Fromage Blanc for ricotta in lasagna or manicotti.”

On the other side of the coin, Green’s Dairy, York, Pa., manufacturer of a very familiar product–ice cream–wants to differentiate itself and uses comparison advertising to do so. Assuming that consumers have heard everything they want to know about ice cream, Green’s advertising agency asked itself what Green’s ice cream has that no other ice cream does. The answer it came up with? The Green family name.

“We decided to promote a quality image–the `We-wouldn’t-put-our-name-on-it-if-it-wasn’t-good’-type of thing,” says Roy Sullivan, public relations director for Green’s. Sullivan says the company was feeling the pressure of supermarket brands in the freezer case.

Anyone can talk about quality, but Green’s can say, “We’re your friends and neighbors,” Sullivan adds. Green’s ads do not name a particular competitor, but obviously target the larger manufacturers who have lost the down-home touch.

Made down-home or in a large plant, ice cream in general is often the target of comparison advertising for other lower-calorie frozen desserts–including those made by ice cream companies themselves.

By design, ice milks are developed to be reduced-calorie alternatives to ice cream, so marketers naturally tout their lower fat contents. But as the battle for the lowest-calorie frozen dessert continues, even ice milks look heavy when compared with the newest aspartame-sweetened products.

Blue Bell Creameries, Houston, Texas, claims to be the first to introduce an aspartame-sweetened bulk frozen dessert. It began distributing the Diet Blue Bell in January. And the company is quick to point out the that new 90-calorie-per-serving product has 40 percent fewer calories than its own Blue Bell Supreme ice cream, which has 150-180 calories per serving.

Company executives aren’t afraid to make the comparison because they say the new product appeals to a somewhat different consumer than the typical ice cream lover. “We expect Diet Blue Bell to appeal to people who don’t now eat ice cream and also to those who do, but would like a product with fewer calories,” says executive vice president John Barnhill. As a result, Barnhill says he doubts the new product will have a significant impact on sales of the company’s Supreme ice cream.

Comparing one product with another doesn’t necessarily mean one is better, the company says. “The market for frozen dessert products is so large that there is room for every taste and every preference–as long as the product is genuinely good,” Barnhill explains.

But others aren’t so sure. Ice cream makers from giant Columbus, Ohio-based Borden Inc. to Great Midwestern Ice Cream Co., Fairfield, Iowa, admit the crowded frozen dessert market is taking its toll on traditional ice cream. And many marketers say it’s not coincidental that ice cream is the target of most frozen dessert comparisons.

Now that consumers are comparison-shopping for calories–as well as price–marketers are purposely pitting the new reduced-calorie concoctions against higher-calorie ice creams in comparison ads.

Frozen yogurt has more positive nutritional attributes and fewer negative ones than ice cream or many other frozen desserts, says Joanne Biltekoff, vice president of Elan Frozen Yogurt, Buffalo, N.Y. And that is an important selling point, she says.

Elan and other companies say their comparison ads simply help them communicate frozen yogurt’s benefits to health-conscious consumers. But many ice cream processors admit they are feeling the effects of frozen yogurt’s popularity primarily because the new product is pointed directly at ice cream.

Elan, which is expanding distribution of its premium frozen yogurt from its Eastern home to the West, is currently taking aim at the premium ice cream market in Colorado. Its ad slogan says it all: “If you love Haagen-Dazs but hate all the fat and calories, discover the great taste of Elan with half the calories and 80 percent less fat!”

But Elan isn’t alone in its approach. “TCBY,” (The Country’s Best Yogurt), tells consumers to “Say Goodbye to High Calories. Say Goodbye to Ice Cream.” The company also promotes its product as giving “All of the Pleasure. None of the Guilt.”

Company spokeswoman Mimi Hurst attributes TCBY’s impressive growth–from $1.8 million in 1983 to about $90 million for the fiscal year ended Nov. 30–in part to its aggressive comparison marketing approach.

And the company has no plans to change marketing strategies now. “We’re continuing to market our product as a superior nutritional treat to ice cream,” Hurst says. “And I think you’ll continue to see solid growth from us.”

PHOTO : Comparison advertisements for Lean Cream tell consumers they don’t have to give up the

PHOTO : full flavor of real sour cream to avoid calories and cholesterol.

PHOTO : Country Morning Blend is marketed against butter substitutes that do not contain the real

PHOTO : thing. The product is touted as having the best of both worlds–genuine butter taste with

PHOTO : less cholesterol.

PHOTO : Elan Frozen Yogurt’s selling point is taste plus nutrition, the company says. And its ads

PHOTO : make the point clear.

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