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Kashi Takes Its Roots on the Road

Whether it’s conquering the surf to demonstrate the power of good nutrition or trotting off to exotic locales in search of new ingredients, Kashi executives Jeff Johnson and Greg Fleishman are convinced that the best way to grow their business is by using one of the ad industry’s trendiest new buzzwords , massroots.

La Jolla-based Kashi, which has 60 employees, is investing more than $20 million in a marketing campaign that spins it as an honest, personable, experience-driven company. And although Kashi was founded 23 years ago, in some ways, 2006 marks its coast-to-coast coming-out party, said Fleishman, the star of one of the company’s new television commercials and the senior director of marketing for the health food maker.

“This is our debutante ball,” Fleishman joked. “We’re not new but we’re at a place where we have the opportunity to go out and show people who might not know about us, what we’re all about.”

Kashi is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Michigan-based Kellogg Co., which bought the brand in 2000 for an undisclosed sum. Although Kashi is owned by Kellogg, its packaging and marketing materials make no mention of its parent company, which sells such cereals as Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops, as well as Pop Tarts and Cheez-It crackers.

“Kellogg is a very progressive company,” Fleishman said. “It’s a forward thinking company and even if it wasn’t, Kashi isn’t about abstaining from junk food. I even let myself have a Snickers bar once a month; but there should be balance.”

At the time of the acquisition, Fleishman, who’s been with the company since 1995, said Kashi was growing at a rate of 115 percent annually. The company has continued to grow since then, in a double-digit range that Fleishman declined to disclose.

Kashi is part of a growing industry of natural food retailers, which last year collectively sold $24.5 billion worth of product, according to the

Nutritional Business Journal,

a San Diego-based research and consulting firm. Kashi products include cold and hot cereals, crackers and snack bars. Frozen dinners, as well as other food types, are also under development.

In addition to the January launch of TV commercials, which also featured brand manager and nutritionist Johnson, Kashi marketing efforts this year will include a seven-month, cross-country tour dubbed, “The Kashi Day of Change Tour.” The tour, which kicked off April 23 at an Earth Day celebration in Balboa Park, is designed around erecting booths at various public venues where Kashi representatives will offer samples, hands-on yoga and cooking demonstrations, and encourage people to pledge to make just one healthy change in their lives.

“The genesis of the idea really is all about our mission for all these years and the need to get healthier,” Johnson said, noting that all pledges made will go into a database that will then be incorporated into a revamped Kashi Web site set to debut May 1.

The idea, Johnson said, is to have an interactive online community wherein people can be inspired to use Kashi products to achieve specific health goals. People using the site will be able to communicate with one another for support and encouragement, as well as receive personal, one-on-one guidance from nutrition experts.

“A lot of companies use their Web site to get information out there; we want that information to still go out, but for other stuff to come back to us so the consumer doesn’t feel like it’s only about us,” Johnson said.


A New Way

A combination of “mass communications” and “grassroots,” massroots is a concept consumers can expect to see more of, according to Michelle Edelman, vice president of account planning at NYCA.

Edelman joined the Encinitas-based advertising firm late last year after a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Chicago, where she worked on a similar massroots campaign for Dove and its line of beauty care products. That campaign, which continues traveling from mall to mall, involves a mobile art exhibit that features photographs of everyday women rather than models and encourages consumers to submit images of women they find beautiful in everyday life.

“It used to be a straight A-to-B line, but that’s not the case anymore,” Edelman said, noting the sheer amount of media options today and the increasing lack of predictability when it comes to consumer shopping habits, makes it all the more important for companies to give their target audience a convenient one-on-one experience with a product, which can then be reinforced with traditional advertising.

“I like the Kashi commercials; they’re well done,” Edelman said. “I think the yoga idea is good. Anything exposure you can give yourself that’s related to the core idea behind your brand is good.”

If the Dove campaign is any indication, Kashi executives have reason to feel hopeful. Since launching its campaign, Dove has retained its spot as the top selling beauty bar in the market , a spot the company lost to competitors several decades ago. The beauty bar soap maker also can tout an 18 percent to 20 percent increase in overall business globally, Edelman said.

“I’m not sure it is going to overtake marketing plans, but I think it’s becoming part of the media mix,” Edelman said.

Their most recent venture is not the first time Kashi helped set a marketing trend. The company, which was founded in 1983, was among the first to promote product sampling at sports events when it dished out samples during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.


Lofty Goals

Fleishman declined to disclose any specific sale goals attached to Kashi’s campaign, saying that all financial goals for the company are flexible. So flexible, in fact, that the company is implementing a new system for its sales staff in which an office chart will be constantly updated to reflect sales goals, actual sales and number of lives affected.

“We do have certain goals because we want to get bigger so we can bring the message to more people,” Fleishman said.

Johnson agreed.

“The numbers are important,” Johnson said. “It’s something we watch everyday and add to everyday but it’s not the end all point. It wasn’t lets do this thing so we can sell X amount of boxes. It was really about inspiring people. If it was to sell more, we’d have just done a plain sampling tour.”

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