Persuasive Partners

The dairy case teems with co-branding success.
Co-branding” is one of those terms that gets tossed around a lot in the food industry. It may be buzzword for some, or a real business driver for others.
However it is defined or prioritized within a company, this type of marketing strategy continues to play an important role in building product or brand awareness, boosting sales and, ultimately, improving profitability. Specific to dairy, this is one marketing approach that is not going away any time soon.
“First of all, I think that it [co-branding] is a tremendous opportunity for the fluid milk part of the business, where frankly, the tradition of strong branding is not as well developed as it is in perhaps ice cream or cheese, and it provides a sort of shortcut to a powerful brand impact that some have taken advantage of, and there are companies that clearly are doing a very extraordinary job of this,” says Tom Nagle, vice president of marketing for the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C. “Hood comes to mind obviously, and Bravo has done some fantastic co-branding deals with single-serve milks and shakes. I think co-branding is an underutilized but very powerful strategy for creating new brands in the dairy industry. One of things dairy companies offer to some of these brands is a degree of household penetration that just doesn’t exist in their own category.”
On the ice cream side of things, Nagle is quick to mention Dreyer’s as one major ice cream player that has utilized strong co-branding techniques, utilizing such household names as Starbucks and Godiva. “Even Starbucks, which is certainly an amazingly powerful brand, doesn’t come close to having the household penetration that ice cream has,” he says.
Ice cream is definitely commingling with some of America’s favorite candy. Smith Dairy’s Ruggles brand, for example, now includes more indulgent concoctions with popular name-brand candies such as Tootsie Roll and Tootsie Pop, both introduced in 2004. Partnering with such famed names as Snickers®, M&M’s®, Twix®, Reese’s® and Heath® Bar, the ice cream category is brimming with co-branding success.
Co-branding in the fluid milk category is not a “marketing-to-kids-only” strategy, Nagle says. “I don’t think it is just a ‘kids only’ marketing approach — not at all,” he says. “I think when you look at the consumption of single-serve flavored milk, it’s not just kids who are drinking it. There are young adults and a lot of women consuming those products.”  
Nagle is enthusiastic about the vastness of opportunity for adult-oriented co-branding in the dairy case. “If you look at novelties as a segment of the frozen dessert business, where co-branding has been extraordinarily common, most of that marketing has been targeted to kids,” he says. “Yet, a lot of people would agree that one of the opportunities that the frozen novelty category has yet to truly exploit is adult-based novelties, and co-branding provides this type of opportunity.”
But there is no question, says Nagle, that co-branding’s sort of “home base” has been centered on marketing to kids. “It’s where some of the most frequent and most obvious, and often most effective, co-branding strategies occur. Any time you are taking cartoon characters or movie characters or any other kind of kid character and applying them to a product, it quickly becomes a youth-targeted opportunity. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really interesting adult co-branding opportunities out there,” he says.” It’s about understanding a particular segment of consumer with specific unique needs and then finding a branding partner that helps you position your product against that segment. And, of course if you look at what Dreyer’s is doing with Starbucks and Godiva, those are clearly adult-targeted co-branding strategies. On balance, it is not just a strategy that works for kids.”
Illustrating a less conventional form of co-branding, and even further proving that anything touched by “The Donald” turns to gold, is New York-based Ciao Bella Gelato Co.’s partnership with NBC-TV’s “The Apprentice” in September 2004, in which teams Mosaic and Apex competed in Episode 2 to successfully create and sell an original ice cream flavor. Contestants visited the Ciao Bella Gelato factory where they worked with the company’s dedicated chef and staff to create two original flavors: Vanilla Donut Dream and Red Velvet Cake.
After a whirlwind 14-hour production and freezing process, the teams competed on the streets of Manhattan to sell the greatest amount of their respective flavors. Both were offered for a limited time in Ciao Bella Cafés and select retailers nationwide. These flavors, due to their association with the famed Donald Trump and his hit show, reportedly sold like hotcakes — co-branding at its best.
Nagle says co-branding adds certain perceptual equities to a product that exist for the partner brand.
“I don’t think we as an industry appreciate what an attractive partner we are,” he says. “I certainly find on the MilkPEP side, that when we approach partners in the food and beverage world, they are very interested in working with milk — and it’s not because we have ‘x’ number of dollars to put into a promotion. It’s because of the penetration and favorable image of the products.”
Nagle says the dairy industry is not typically brand-driven by nature. But, he adds, “we are one of the most popular, habitual, beloved products in the entire grocery store. And that makes milk a very attractive partner.”
Kid Appeal
Young adults possess incredible purchasing power. And dairy processors have discovered the value of putting a sizeable portion of their budgets up against this demanding, and often finicky, demographic.
There is an incredible array of co-branded products in the dairy case for kids and teens alike. From single-serve milks and shakes to cheese sticks and on-the-go snacks to ice cream and frozen novelties, these products are capturing the hearts and stomachs of today’s young generation.
When it comes to the packaging, experts agree it important to give kids and moms clear brand messages. Marketers often think kids’ packaging needs lots of color and clutter, but kids can’t put it into the shopping cart without first asking Mom, which means the packaging has to be that much more memorable so they know what to ask for specifically, as opposed to generic colors and graphics. Therefore, processors are looking at the tried and true ways that have worked with kids, like character development. For example, to focus on the younger set, Toronto-based CoolBrands International Inc. entered into several new licensing agreements to produce a line of better-for-kids frozen treats, co-branded with the Care Bears, Justice League, Crayola and Trix. Altogether known as the “Better for Kids” line, these products offer parents an entire line of ice pops and ice cream sandwiches, each boasting added benefits, such as no sugar added or reduced fat.
A League of Their Own
Many dairy processors have successfully co-branded products with popular local sports teams.
In January, for example, to kick off the football season, Upstate Farms Cooperative Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., gave Bills fans another thing to cheer about with its introduction of Buffalo Bills Lowfat Chocolate and Vanilla Milks. Low in fat and sweetened with a blend of sugar and Splenda®, these milks were touted as the ultimate fuel for a healthy boost needed by fans of all ages. A healthier way to indulge, the products offered consumers a better alternative to carbonated beverages and fruit drinks.
Arlington, Mass.-based Brigham’s Inc.’s Reverse The Curse™ ice cream, created by a local fan last year, was designed to inspire the Boston Red Sox to ultimate victory. The frozen treat featured the company’s signature vanilla ice cream loaded with chocolate covered peanuts, or “baseballs,” chocolate-covered caramel “bases” and swirls of Brigham’s famous fudge sauce.
Likewise, Comeback Caramel is part of the new Hood Champions Ice Cream line from Chelsea, Mass.-based HP Hood LLC, the only official ice cream of the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. To salute the end of the team’s 86-year World Series drought, this flavor combines chocolate caramel “socks” and thick caramel swirled in caramel-flavored ice cream.
Health Partners
LeMars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy Inc. and Weight Watchers entered into an exclusive licensing agreement in October 2004 in which Wells became the new marketer, producer and distributor of the extensive line of frozen novelties and ice cream under the Weight Watchers® brand. The Giant Cookies & Cream Bar, for example, was prepared to fit the Weight Watchers program and is useful for weight control when used strictly in accordance with the Weight Watchers food plan.
“The great-tasting new Weight Watchers ice cream products offer more food choices to weight-conscious consumers,” says Adam Baumgartner, marketing manager for Wells’ Dairy. “These products are sensible and can easily be part of a balanced diet.” The Weight Watchers products produced by Wells’ Dairy include the Chocolate Mousse Bar, English Toffee Crunch Bar, Giant Cookies & Cream Bar, Giant Fudge Bar, Giant Fudge Sundae Cones, Giant Fudge Sundae Cups and Ice Cream Sandwiches.
Baumgartner says Wells’ Dairy has seen success with all of the Weight Watchers ice cream products. “The recently released new dietary guidelines encourage Americans to maintain a healthy body weight while making wise food choices,” he says. “The Weight Watchers branded products are part of that equation. All of the products broaden the selection of sensible, great-tasting food choices for weight-conscious consumers that can be part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.” 
Baumgartner says the partnership with Weight Watchers has been an element of Wells’ Dairy’s success. “While Wells’ Dairy already had an extensive line frozen of  novelties and ice cream products in the ‘better-for-you’ category before the licensing agreement,” he says, “the Weight Watchers products offer new ice cream treats that taste great and are portion controlled with fewer calories, less fat and more fiber than traditional products in the ice cream aisle.”