MILK MOUSTACHE DRIVE COMBING RETAIL SCENE

WASHINGTON -- Dairy category managers have become the newest stars in the continuing $186 million milk moustache promotion campaign. But unlike past efforts, which appealed directly to the public, this program aims to boost the level of behind-the-scenes, promotional activity among retailers.This latest phase, budgeted at $20.1 million, has been organized by Dairy Management Inc. here and the Milk

WASHINGTON -- Dairy category managers have become the newest stars in the continuing $186 million milk moustache promotion campaign. But unlike past efforts, which appealed directly to the public, this program aims to boost the level of behind-the-scenes, promotional activity among retailers.

This latest phase, budgeted at $20.1 million, has been organized by Dairy Management Inc. here and the Milk Processor Education Program, based in Chicago. The two groups integrated their respective promotional campaigns eight months ago, combining DMI's "Got Milk?" effort with MilkPep's moustache pictorials.

"We wanted to use the power of that [public] campaign to get a message across to the retail category and dairy managers that there are new and great opportunities to use to boost milk sales," said Tom Nagle, vice president of marketing for MilkPEP. "We have a lot of research from ACNielsen showing that milk features drive substantial, 40% to 80% increases in milk."

Mike Convey, corporate merchandising manager for the Minneapolis-based Nash Finch Co., was the first to display his milk moustache in the ad spread. He was selected from a list of nominees solicited from processors and producers. The ad ran alongside a dedicated page summarizing the promotion.

Laura McKeough, a category manager for Dominick's Finer Foods, based in Northlake, Ill., was chosen to appear in the second ad. She said the opportunity was a "positive" one. "I did it because, first of all, milk was very important to Dominick's and important to us," she said, adding that most of the comments she received following the ad were from vendors who saw her picture.

According to Nagle, more ads will appear next year in six of the 12 months. "[It is] strictly a trade campaign; it's running in four magazines targeting the retail grocery trade," he said.

Accompanying the ad spreads are business reply cards for store-level merchandising materials, as well as tie-in offers with other products.

"The response to those BRC cards has been terrific," said Nagle. "We ran the BRC cards as a bit of an experiment, to see if retailers would in fact try to order materials or participate in these promotions, just with BRC cards. The answer is, hundreds have."

In September, the promotion centered on prepacked shippers of 500 calendars featuring past milk-moustache celebrities. The calendars are free to store customers who purchase two 1-gallon jugs of milk, said Nagle. The promotion remains in effect through December.

This year's calendar is an improvement over the one offered last year, which was a single-sheet, poster-sized wall hanging, containing $30 worth of coupons, said Nagle. For 1999, consumers are finding a book-style calender with better graphics and total coupon amounts increased to $40, he said.

Additionally, the promotion includes an optional tie-in with Pillsbury. According to the ad, retailers can cross promote Pillsbury refrigerated cookie dough with 1-gallon milk jugs, using point-of-sale materials provided by the campaign.

"We're putting some signage in the stores during that time-frame when the [Pillsbury] program is hitting the stores," said McKeough. "And, I believe we're going to participate in the celebrity calendar as well. Not only does it increase milk sales because it's a giveaway, but it brings a lot of consumer awareness to the milk category, which has been traditionally a pretty flat category."

The October ad promotion, which featured McKeough, was titled, "Get Smart With Milk Promotion." The promotion offered customers a chance to earn scholarships or win home computers through their retailers. The stores received a certain number of the prizes, based on the size of the operation, as well as the number of milk promotions highlighted in weekly ads or in-store circulars. The promotion is scheduled to kick off at store level in January.

Another promotion slated for January includes distribution of the 1999 People Celebrity Fact Finder. Shippers of 100 issues of the publication will be sent to participating retailers, for customers who purchase 2 gallons of milk.

"For the first time this year and next year, we have a national sustained retail program," said MilkPEP's Nagle. "So, not only are we making various promotions available to the retailer, but we're also using the advertising to convey the message to the retailer that there's a sustained commitment to promotional activity; that they can depend on and expect and participate in."

A spokeswoman for DMI/MilkPEP said the next promotional ad -- featuring a retailer -- will appear in December, and include a promotional tie-in with Cheerios cereal. No additional details could be provided at this time.

In addition to Cheerios, the campaign will offer a family health guide called "Your Family's Health," produced by U.S. News & World Report and Family Circle, according to the spokeswoman. She said the special health guide would be available to consumers who purchased 1 gallon of milk.

While most of the promotions have emphasized white milk, Nagle said there will be future campaigns targeting chocolate milk, as well as milk served in single-serve, resealable plastic "chug" containers, he said.

Against this backdrop, MilkPEP has been fighting government charges that it lacks effective control over its more than $100 million budget used to fund the milk-moustache campaign.

About 200 companies are responsible for funding the organization, including the Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. and Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets. According to a referendum, each company must contribute a mandatory 20 cents for each 100 pounds of milk processed. MilkPEP said that equals about $105 million annually.