Q&A: Dannon Plans More Activity for Activia

In tough times, discretionary items like yogurt are often the first to go. Group Danone has certainly noticed this trend. It witnessed, what it has called, a “marked slowdown” in its fourth quarter fresh dairy sales. Still, Marc Jove, its new svp of marketing for Dannon (as the company is known here), sees growth potential in an emerging market such as the U.S. Jove, who formerly headed up marketing for the probiotic-infused Activia brand worldwide, discussed some of the challenges of growing a $2 billion global brand, how U.S. consumption of yogurt differs from overseas countries and why Activia is not cutting back from marketing spend despite a recession. Excerpts are below.

Brandweek: Consumers want to eat better, yet they consider yogurt a discretionary purchase. How are you addressing that?

Marc Jove:  Basically, what we need to underline is the proven and clinical effects of our products. The need is there: Eight out of 10 adults in the U.S. are suffering from digestive disorders. So what we need to do is provide a relevant proposition with our product that is clinically proven, different and delivers on what it promises to do. That’s been the Activia promise and consumers have remained loyal to it.

BW: You’re launching two new products under the Activia brand. What are they?
MJ: The first is Activia drinks [available in 5.75 ozs]. Up until now, the U.S. consumer has only enjoyed Activia in spoon-and-cup form. We just launched these drinks that make our product and benefits available at any time, anywhere. The second is Activia Fiber, which was first launched in Spain in 1997. It has been a tremendous success across the world and in many different countries for the excellent taste we can provide with the product. They come in strawberry, vanilla and peach with cereal [flavors]. We started shipping both products in January.

BW: How are you marketing these new products?

MJ: We are using several tactics. You will be seeing TV [in March]. On top of that, we are giving away products for free at different places in front of store shelves. We’re also using couponing strategies to make it easier for the consumer to taste it for the first time [as well as] in-store promotions.

BW: How are you doing in terms of shelf space?
MJ: The shelf space has been increasing steadily for the past four years. We are getting more footage every year.

BW: Danone was able to offset consumer cutback by raising fresh dairy prices, resulting in a 3.5 percent Q4 increase. But are consumers still willing to pay up? Is Activia raising prices this year?

MJ: We are not increasing prices for Activia in 2009. We remain at the same level we were from our last price increase, which took place in February 2008 and was between 8 to 10 percent. I think we have the right price.

BW: Are you cutting ad spending for Activia?
MJ: We are not going back at all. We are keeping our investment, even increasing it. Of course, we also track the ROI of our campaigns. That means we might shift some dollars from in-store to coupons and from coupons to direct mail.

BW: What’s your favorite yogurt story?
MJ: A colleague of mine was walking around with Jamie Lee Curtis [spokesperson for the Activia brand] and a consumer reached out to her and said, “Thank you, Jamie.” And she said, “Yes?” and asked if [the fan] would like an autograph, and she said, “Thank you, thank you. Since I saw you, I’ve tried Activia and my life has changed.” It was funny because Jamie was thinking she wanted her autograph.