Chugging Along

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Jim Page doesn’t think much about the breakfast table these days. Page is the ringleader for Dean Food Co.’s $13 million rollout of Milk Chug, resealable pints and quarts that are transforming the sleepy milk category. Although nearly 100 percent of U.S. households buy milk, they drink 80 percent of it at home – if they ever are home. To compete with other beverages, milk needed new packaging to make it more mobile. In its unwieldy cardboard cartons and gallon jugs, “milk hadn’t made the transition to fit America’s lifestyle. We don’t live in the kitchen anymore,” Page says.

Dean developed resealable, single-serve bottles that fit consumers’ on-the-go lifestyles and began rolling out Chug in September ’97. Dean will take Chug systemwide by March ’99, covering 55 percent of the U.S., and is testing Juice Chugs in Florida with five flavors: apple, orange, citrus punch, fruit punch, and lemonade. The company invested $50 million in operations to produce Chug in five plants, and will bring three more plants on line by March.

Dean uses grassroots promos to bring Chug into new markets, using 10 vans to give samples at ballgames, zoos, museums, and office buildings. A July tie-in with the St. Louis Cardinals invited kids to pitch at a tower of Chug bottles for a chance to throw out the first pitch at the Cards’ next game. Dean gave Chug samples to 10,000 fans that day.

“We believe a lot in grassroots marketing. Milk is such a part of life that it fits into what’s going on in the street and at events,” Page says. Dean tailors events to suit different consumer groups because Chug appeals to “a very broad target,” he adds.

Pints and half-pints are for kids and drinkers on-the-go; quarts are geared to light users who want a resealable container in the fridge, but for whom a gallon is too much; and chocolate Chug quarts are a favorite among young men. Promotions target each group. “Everything we do includes on-site sampling,” Page explains. Tatham Euro RSCG and Slack, Barshinger & Partners, Chicago, handle ads; Flair Communications and DNW Communications, Chicago, work on promos.

Chug Bugs Radio buys always include sampling events: A teen station in the Midwest bought a Ford Ranger for its own summer promotions, and used it for guerrilla sampling of Chug. “Chug Bugs” – painted VW Beetles – are sweeps prizes in Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Charleston. Dean’s biggest sampling vehicle – a CTA bus filled with 38,000 Chug bottles – traveled to Chicago landmarks asking consumers to guess how many bottles were on board. Prizes were a Ford Explorer, Disney vacations, grocery shopping sprees, and a year’s supply of Chugs. Spectators were agog. (So was Dean chairman-ceo Howard Dean when Page explained the plan.)

“It’s fun to see consumers talk about milk out of context. It’s not milk anymore, it’s chocolate Chug,” Page says. “We set out to change the whole category and by gosh, we did it.”

How fanatical are Chug drinkers? Word is one local cop let a Dean employee off without a ticket when he found out the worker is on the Chug team. More qualitatively, total chocolate milk sales are up 164 percent in Chug markets, compared to 14 percent in non-Chug markets, according to Information Resources Inc. Dean’s research shows that 25 percent of Chug users are drinking more milk and 32 percent drink it as a snack replacement. At Dean’s headquarters, “we put out chocolate Chug at 2:30 every afternoon, and it’s gone in minutes,” Page says.

The only crew busier than Page’s, it seems, are the cows.

Name: Jim Page

Age: 49

Title: VP-marketing, Dean Foods Co., Franklin Park, IL

Career Highlights: Began as vp-marketing for Dean’s ice cream in 1993; spent 18 years at Kraft Foods from sales associate to Dairy Group vp managing Breyers and Sealtest ice cream.

Favorite Promotion: Putting 38,000 Chug bottles on a CTA bus. “We put the bottles on the bus ourselves. That was a very cold day.”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Brown Cow (vanilla and chocolate ice creams loaded with Mackinac Island fudge)

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