Morningstar Farms' 2000 Vegiie Burger Campaign
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Morningstar Farms' 2000 Vegiie Burger Campaign

Following its acquisition by the Kellogg Company in late 1999, Morningstar Farms veggie foods brand entered 2000 with a bold mission fitting of its new parent: to take a food product – veggie burgers – from a category once reserved primarily for vegetari

Paul Holmes

Following its acquisition by the Kellogg Company in late 1999, Morningstar Farms veggie foods brand entered 2000 with a bold mission fitting of its new parent:  to take a food product – veggie burgers – from a category once reserved primarily for vegetarians, and place it squarely on America’s kitchen table as a mainstream meal option.   The brand’s veggie burgers are a great-tasting, healthful alternative to traditional meat options; and, the frozen, pre-made easy-to-prepare patties meet consumer lifestyle needs.  

As Morningstar Farms set out to gain mass awareness and acceptance, the brand was not alone in the category:  competitors were vying for their share of the market, leveraging brand names with higher consumer awareness.  While Morningstar Farms was the overall leader in the veggie foods category, its veggie burgers were the number two brand in the segment.  However, according to consumer taste tests, Morningstar Farms veggie burgers consistently scored above the competition on taste.  Sales information showed the brand had much higher repeat purchase rates than the competition, but experienced lower rates of trial.  

Morningstar Farms recognized that if it could get media and consumers to talk about and acknowledge the growing popularity of veggie burgers in general and then position its brand within this movement as the taste leader, it would catapult itself onto consumers’ radar screens and into shopping carts nationwide – whetting consumer appetites for more of its products, growing the category and gobbling market share from its competition.   To gain this important “share of mouth,” Morningstar Farms focused its efforts on capturing attention for its veggie burgers during a key sales period, the summer grilling season (May to September).  

OBJECTIVES

Generate awareness of Morningstar Farms veggie burgers and differentiate brand from the competition (goal: 60 story placements/85 million consumer impressions)

Communicate that Morningstar Farms veggie burgers offer superior taste and flavor

Build credibility for and sales of Morningstar Farms as a mainstream meal option

Audience: Women (ages 35 +)

RESEARCH

Original research was conducted to determine trends in backyard barbecues across the country.  Existing data on the veggie foods category, beef industry and grilling habits was also assessed.  

The research revealed a changing American grill that is expanding from traditional red meat options to include more poultry, fish, and veggie foods.  One-third of the respondents said they wanted to be offered veggie burgers as a meal option at barbecues during summer 2000.  Women especially wanted to expand their grilling options and include healthier foods in their diets, specifically during the summer.  This trend was coined the “Greening of the Grill” and was used as the creative platform for the launch of the public relations campaign.

STRATEGY

Provide a newsworthy platform for media to “discover” and report on Morningstar Farms

Use research findings to create a compelling news angle

Leverage credible spokesperson(s) to deliver key brand messages

Create opportunities for media to become taste ambassadors for Morningstar Farms

Target national/nationwide media as well as media in key “underdog markets” where the brand had low sales versus the competition (San Francisco, Boston and Denver)

EXECUTION/TACTICS

Greening of the Grill

To put its product where the media’s mouth is and give editors a taste of the trend, Morningstar Farms conducted creative BBQ-themed editor deskside briefing and tasting sessions in February with 10 national women’s magazine editors based in New York.  Brand representatives went to editors’ offices with a portable grill and picnic basket filled with a tablecloth, napkins, plates, utensils and beverages.  Samples of four varieties of Morningstar Farms veggie burgers (including a new flavor) were prepared while editors were briefed on the trend and key brand messages were delivered.  “Greening of the Grill” press kits were distributed to additional magazine editors and numerous products were delivered.  In May, press kits were mailed and media relations conducted with national newspapers, syndicated food writers and major daily newspapers.  Comments from reporters included: “Boca burgers are over-rated – this tastes different!  Delicious!” (Modern Bride); “Very impressed with – and surprised by – the great taste.” (Woman’s Day).  

Flavor Summit

Once Morningstar Farms veggie burgers were on media radar screens, the brand set out to further capture a leadership position in taste, by creating an ownable, branded event called “Morningstar Farms Focus on Flavor 2000.”  Held in late June just prior to the July 4th holiday, the event provided a platform for the brand to show its leadership in identifying and delivering popular consumer tastes and flavors.  Trend-setting celebrity chefs from Boston, Denver and San Francisco participated in a panel discussion with TV Food Network show host and celebrity chef Curtis Aikens at the French Culinary Institute in New York to discuss the hottest food flavor trends and showcase how the brand delivers those flavors in its products.  Media were also provided with an elegant buffet of four varieties of Morningstar Farms veggie burgers prepared with innovative recipes reflecting popular flavors.  A post-event release and photo were distributed nationally to media who could not attend the event.  Each panelist took the story on the road to the brand’s target markets through media tours in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Denver.  Curtis Aikens was placed on Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee in New York, while media interviews with local TV and print outlets were conducted in the other markets.  Opportunistic media relations efforts were also conducted throughout the summer at key grilling holidays such as Labor Day and Fourth of July.  

OBSTACLES

Negative taste perceptions of veggie burgers, as well as frozen or “convenience” foods

Perception of veggie burgers as a “vegetarian” food rather than mainstream meal option

Need to appeal to mainstream without alienating “core” niche consumers

EVALUATION

For the first time ever, the brand led the business segment during the most competitive selling season of the year – even in the three key “underdog” markets targeted by the PR campaign  

30 percent increase in sales of Morningstar Farms veggie burgers during the grilling season in key markets

135 story placements (goal: 60) including: Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee; Gannett Newspaper and Universal Features syndicated columns; Good Housekeeping, Shape, Prevention, People magazines; more than 110 million audience impressions (goal: 85 million); 78 percent of coverage included at least one key brand message/visual, 93 percent was positive or neutral

Tasting is believing! Media endorsed Morningstar Farms veggie burgers’ great flavor:

Before the debut of Morningstar Farms’ Oven Roasted Veggie Burgers, there were only two kinds of veggie burgers:  bad and very bad” (Carolyn Wyman, syndicated columnist); “I never ordered a veggie burger before – now I want to!” (KUSA-TV, Denver); “Terrific texture and juicy beef flavor” (Shape); I went back for a second one of these delicious, nutty patties? They really are yummy” (The Record); The increasing popularity of veggie burgers as BBQ fare has been dubbed the ‘greening of the grill.’ It’s a trend I like a lot…I would prefer a grilled veggie burger [instead of pork, lamb, steak, chicken…] like these new ones from Morningstar Farms” (Bonnie Tandy Leblang, syndicated columnist).  
Brand embraced celebrity chefs as taste ambassadors; used Curtis Aikens in FSI that generated outstanding sales results

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