Wholesome & Hearty Foods Company

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Wholesome & Hearty Foods Company

15615 Alton Pkwy., Ste. 350
Irvine, California 92618
Telephone: (949) 255-2000
Fax: (949) 255-2010
Web site: www.gardenburger.com



NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1999 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, Gardenburger Inc. changed its name to Wholesome & Hearty Foods. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.

Gardenburger, Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of meatless food products, launched its first television advertising campaign in 1998 and took a heady gamble by investing approximately $1.5 million, a sizable portion of Gardenburger's annual advertising budget of about $14 million, on one 30-second advertising slot on the final episode of the popular television program Seinfeld. The program, which aired on NBC, had generated a dedicated following of viewers, and the show's finale was purported to have the most expensive commercial advertising time in television history, outdoing even the much-watched Super Bowl. Despite skepticism among competitors and industry analysts regarding Gardenburger's decision to invest more than 10 percent of its modest advertising budget on 30 seconds, Lyle G. Hubbard, Gardenburger's CEO and president, spoke enthusiastically about the Seinfeld slot in a company news release. "The purpose of Gardenburger's advertising campaign is to take the brand from niche to mainstream, and what better way to do it than on one of America's favorite television shows," Hubbard stated. "There is huge consumer demand right now for low fat products that taste great, so the last episode of Seinfeld is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Gardenburger."

The television campaign, developed by agency Publicis/Hal Riney & Partners, consisted of three animated spots. The whimsical commercials promoted the convenience, wholesomeness, and good taste of Gardenburger veggie patties. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, each ad used the tag line, "Eating Good Just Got Great" and focused on the motto, "Surprising Great Taste." The campaign began on May 4, 1998, the start of the company's peak sales season, with the second of the three ads airing on the last episode of Seinfeld on May 14, 1998. Even before the campaign commenced, however, the small, relatively unknown Gardenburger received a substantial amount of media publicity for its Seinfeld gamble. "Eating Good Just Got Great" continued through the summer, though it was initially scheduled for a five-week run due to the company's limited budget. The campaign also included a print effort in consumer magazines and was supported by a public relations plan implemented by public relations agency Publicis Dialog (formerly EvansGroup Public Relations). Publicis/Hal Riney's Paul Janus discussed Gardenburger's goal of attracting a mainstream audience and the logic behind its aggressive, albeit risky, advertising strategy in the Wall Street Journal and said: "If this is truly going to be a big category [meatless food products], somebody's got to be there first…. This is where we stick our flag in the ground."


In the early 1990s the public began to grow increasingly conscious of health and nutrition matters, sparking a trend in the consumption of meat alternatives among nonvegetarians. According to market research firm FIND/SVP, sales of meat-substitute and dairy-alternative products more than doubled from 1989 to 1994, increasing from $138 million to $286 million, and were projected to continue growing to reach an estimated $662 million by 1999. Many were buying these products not in health food stores but in supermarkets, which in 1996 accounted for 52 percent of meat-substitute sales, according to FIND/SVP. Founded in 1985, Gardenburger had made its mark in the niche category that consisted of natural and health foods. The company, which had traditionally geared its advertising efforts to the health food shopper with ads that urged consumers to help save the planet, and the cows, by avoiding meat, hoped to capitalize on this nationwide healthful eating movement. By the mid-1990s, however, the company found itself in a rather unpleasant situation—though revenues were increasing, earnings were flat.

Gardenburger's fate changed in 1996 when it hired Hubbard, a former executive at Quaker Oats who had been responsible for turning the sagging rice cake business into a $200 million division in three years. Hubbard implemented a new growth strategy designed to mainstream the meatless food product category and transform Gardenburger into the market leader. Revenues quickly began to rise, increasing 10 percent in 1996 and 45 percent in 1997. In 1997 Gardenburger products became available in retail stores nationwide, up from 20 percent availability when Hubbard joined the company, and continued its push in the food service and restaurant arena. The company also began to broaden its marketing efforts to increase the brand's visibility—in 1997 Gardenburger launched a national print campaign that included ads in such mainstream publications as People, Rolling Stone, and USA Today.


The traditional audience for Gardenburger veggie patties included strict vegetarians, a group that made up only 1 percent to 2 percent of the population. Other likely consumers were semivegetarians and those required by their physicians to change their eating habits because of medical conditions. These consumers represented a limited portion of the population, but a growing number of people began to focus on eating more healthily, and Gardenburger was able to expand its target audience. By 1998 most shoppers were aware of the healthfulness of various food products and had committed themselves to improving their diets, but most had still not tried many meat alternatives. Gardenburger's research had found, however, that about six out of 10 U.S. households unfamiliar with Gardenburger veggie patties were not only willing to try them but were also apt to consume them on a regular basis if they were easy to prepare, flavorsome, and good for their health.

For the "Eating Good Just Got Great" campaign Gardenburger hoped to appeal to a wide audience that included the 33 million college-educated American adults who attempted to eat healthily and maintain relatively active lifestyles. Seinfeld was a popular program with this group, and Seinfeld particularly appealed to women between the ages of 25 and 54, a key audience for Gardenburger's veggie patties. Publicis/Hal Riney's Douglas Seay stated in a Gardenburger news release: "Seinfeld has owned the number-one or -two position with women every Thursday night at 9 p.m. for several years now …. The show's audience is a solid match with the demographic profile of Gardenburger's target market." It was up to Gardenburger and Publicis/Hal Riney to convince these loyal Seinfeld fans that Gardenburger products were worth trying—in 30 seconds.


When Gardenburger embarked upon its ambitious growth endeavor, it was not the leader of the meat-alternative category; rather, that honor went to Worthington Foods Inc. of Ohio, the maker of such brands as Morningstar Farms, Natural Touch, and Worthington. According to "Business First-Columbus", Worthington's Morningstar Farms brand enjoyed a market share of 60 percent in the meatless food segment in 1995. Another rival, Pillsbury Company and Archer Daniels Midland Company's Harvest Burger brand, had a 23 percent share in 1995. Before Harvest Burger entered the meatless product category in 1993, Morningstar Farms' market share was a commanding 95 percent. Gardenburger trailed behind until 1997, when it began expanding its distribution channels and advertising with a national print campaign. At the beginning of that year Gardenburger's market share was 12 percent, but, the company reported, by the end of August its share had climbed significantly to 32 percent. Worthington Foods' share, meanwhile, hovered around 36 percent. Demand for veggie patties increased as well, growing 37 percent in the year ending May 1998, according to A.C. Nielsen Company.

Gardenburger was the first to take the high-visibility plunge into national television advertising. Though Worthington invested in advertising—the company spent about $1 million in 1995—it chose a slower strategy and promoted its products through print ads, coupons, and other promotions targeted to a more tailored audience. Worthington CEO Dale Twomley voiced his skepticism regarding Gardenburger's aggressive main-streaming approach in the Columbus Dispatch and said: "It's way too broad of an approach. We're not selling waffles, orange juice or Twinkies. It's much more of a niche market. Our dollars are targeted on consumers who have an interest or are likely to have an interest."


As 1998 began, the management at Gardenburger had little intent of launching a national television campaign. CEO Hubbard planned to allot about $4 million on a print campaign, which was reasonable for a company with sales of $58 million in 1997. Gardenburger's ad agency, however, convinced Hubbard in January 1998 that a television effort would reach the widest audience. It would also give the company the best chance of branding the category and changing the perception of the veggie patty as a health-food item to a mainstream consumer product. Gardenburger also hoped to become a household name, much like Kleenexor Xerox, so it was imperative that Gardenburger get to the starting line before its rivals and that the advertising be memorable. Hubbard explained in Prepared Foods, "The thinking was 'let's just market veggie burgers and market them well enough so we can own the category in the mind of the consumer,' just like Gatorade did when it became the beverage for fluid replacement."

In order to finance the ambitious campaign and the Seinfeld slot, Gardenburger used $15 million of privately placed debt. The budget for the "Eating Good Just Got Great" campaign, which was Gardenburger's sole advertising effort in 1998, was three times as much as the company's 1997 ad budget. The slogan, "Surprising Great Taste," conveyed Gardenburger's understanding that many consumers believed meatless food products would not taste good, and it also prompted shoppers to give the veggie patty a try through the implication that they would be pleasantly surprised with the taste. The television spots were adapted from the print ads, which featured cartoon characters such as Lucy the Lion Tamer, who ate Gardenburger veggie patties so the lions would not smell meat on her breath. In addition to the Seinfeld finale, the spots were planned to air on major broadcast and cable networks during popular shows, including Ellen, Third Rock from the Sun, ER, Home Improvement, and the Oprah Winfrey Show, for a total of more than 1,500 instances.

All three of the television ads promoted the convenience, healthfulness, and good taste of Gardenburger patties. The second of three ads, "Vern," debuted on the Seinfeld final alongside spots from such advertising giants as Anheuser-Busch Company, Visa USA, and Wendy's International Inc. The spot, enthusiastically narrated by Jackson, featured the animated characters Vern and Edna. The generously proportioned Vern took hula lessons and invited Edna to a luau, hoping to impress her. When he attempted to serve her the traditional luau fare of roast pig, Edna frowned, requesting something "tasty and healthy" instead. Vern then saved the day by serving Gardenburgers, but then he donned a grass skirt and demonstrated his hula skills, leaving Edna to wonder when the other guests would arrive. The narrator asserted, "Discover Gardenburger—all natural, really tasty, end of story, because eating good just got great." Another spot featured Polly, who jumped on a pogo stick to catch a glimpse of the desirable Ned in his second-story apartment. She spied him eating a Gardenburger patty then continued jumping higher and higher, observing a man on an airplane eating a Gardenburger and cosmonauts munching on the veggie patties in a spaceship. Polly then reached heaven, where she saw her grandmother eating one. The narrator explained that "they are healthy and tasty and good!" The third spot, "Paul," gave the story of chef and Gardenburger creator Paul Wenner. Paul invented a patty with no meat, which he nervously tested on looming construction workers and truck drivers. Much to his delight and relief, the workers enjoyed the veggie patties, and Paul became a famous chef, worshipped by cows.


Meatless patties found themselves divided into two overall categories—those that were intended to simulate meat both in taste and appearance, and those that were not. The meat-like products were generally composed of soy products, while the veggie patties tended to consist of vegetables and grains.

Gardenburger veggie patties, for instance, were made of brown rice, bulgur wheat, onions, mushrooms, egg whites, and low-fat cheese.


The "Eating Good Just Got Great" campaign was a wild success, and the company's decision to advertise on Seinfeld generated more than 1,000 news reports even before the ads aired, including stories on CNN Headline News and NBC and reports in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Times. One week after the Seinfeld episode, which reached more than 100 million viewers according to NBC, Nielsen scanner data indicated that Gardenburger sales skyrocketed—the company sold more veggie patties in that one-week period than it had in all of 1997, amounting to an increase of 411 percent and a total of $2 million in sales. Gardenburger also became the top-selling brand in the veggie patty segment, its market share jumping up to 50 percent. The company managed to hang onto its leading position even after the Seinfeld hype died down—in early 1999 Nielsen scanner data indicated that Gardenburger's share of the veggie patty category was 55 percent, significantly ahead of second-place Worthington, which had a share of 22 percent. Harvest Burger, acquired by Worthington in September 1998, held a 7 percent share. The overall meatless burger category was boosted by Gardenburger's advertising as well, and retail sales of veggie patties increased 57 percent in 1998.

Not only did Gardenburger's sales and recognition increase, but its ads were well-received by the viewing audience. The NPD Group, a research firm, conducted a survey following the Seinfeld finale and found that the Gardenburger spot demonstrated the second highest recall among the total of 28 commercials that aired during the program. The same poll rated "Vern" as the third favorite of the Seinfeld ads. The campaign won a gold EFFIE Award and a Genesis Award, given to organizations focused on animal issues. Because of the popularity and effectiveness of the "Eating Good Just Got Great" campaign, Gardenburger launched a second television campaign in April 1999 with a budget of $15 million. The 1999 campaign, developed by Chicago agency Rubin Postaer & Associates, featured the television spots from 1998 and was scheduled to run through the spring and summer in a continued effort to mainstream the veggie patty.


Hill, Jim. "Seinfeld Finale Will Serve as Gardenburger's Entree." Portland Oregonian, March 3, 1998, p. A1.

Leeson, Fred. "Gardenburger Eats Up Fame," Portland Oregonian, May 15, 1998, p. B1.

Richards, Bill. "Gardenburger Bets The (Soybean) Farm On the Last 'Seinfeld,'" Wall Street Journal, April 13, 1998.

Rose, Michael. "Rice-caking Gardenburger Marketing Whiz Hubbard is Transforming the Veggie Vendor," The Business Journal-Portland, April 10, 1998, p. 23.

Stapankowsky, Paula L. "Gardenburger Ad Campaign Has Fast Results." Wall Street Journal, May 4, 1999, p. B13.

                                        Mariko Fujinaka