Verdict: Iogo saves the day

Ultima Food CEO Gerry Doutre chats about launching a brand at lightning speed.

With more than 7.4 million coupons distributed, 400,000 samples handed out, and 95% of Canadians having seen the campaign, Ultima Foods CEO Gerry Doutre has something to boast about.

Invited to kick off the Toronto Board of Trade’s Food and Beverage speaker series, Doutre recounted how the Agropur- and Agrifoods-owned Ultima launched a new product in an 18-month-time period with a $70 million budget.

In December 2010, the brand’s money-making staple (Yoplait Yogurt) was thrown into disarray when General Mills made a bid for the licensing agreement from Yoplait France. Ultima had produced the yogurt since 1971, maintaining a near-30% market share that contributed to the bulk of the company’s $330 million revenue. Agropur and Agrifoods announced in 2011 they wanted to remain a leader in the Canadian yogurt industry, an expanding market with consumption growing almost 60% between 2002 and 2011. As a result of this declaration, Ultima began secretly working on a new brand that could compete with Yoplait, should licensing talks favour the competition.

“We didn’t start out to launch Iögo,” says Doutre. “We set out to renew Yoplait.”

The Nouvelle France project (as it was known internationally) consisted of a team of 80-plus people who set out to create a brand new entrant in a rapidly heating up market (with international players, such as Chobani, making a play for Canadian palates). The project was top secret. The company held out its intention to release a new line to even its employees. “We were counting on the element of surprise,” Doutre says.

In April 2012, the announcement was made that Ultima would retain the manufacturing license for Yoplait, but marketing and distribution would be handled by General Mills. Ultima flipped the switch and announced its intention to launch Iögo.

“Generally, the research, creation, development and marketing of a single yogurt with a few flavours takes about 24 months. In our case, we had only 18 months to develop an entirely new brand,” he says. “We wanted a complete portfolio of over 44 different products for grocery stores. The one thing we couldn’t afford was to undershoot.”

Working with agency DenstuBos, Canada was soon blanketed in creative introducing Iögo (heavily utilizing the umlaut – or double dots above the “o” in ads), with the tag, “the new way to say Yogurt.” With a launch date of August set, Ultima began courting retailers to carry the brand, renting out lofts in major cities for presentations and sampling.

“One retailer said, ‘You haven’t given us a choice. We have to carry it,’” recalled Doutre with a satisfied smile. Sampling and coupon distribution was undertaken in stores to activate the launch, with shopper marketing programs developed alongside retailers’ marketing teams. Within 10 weeks, market share rose to 12%, while awareness sat at 74%. Those numbers have continued to climb as more creative hits the streets.

Going forward, Doutre remains tight-lipped on when we can expect more creative, but did say the current communication plan is a 15-month execution (which is approximately six months through). And while there are no immediate plans to bring the yogurt to the global stage, Doutre doesn’t rule it out as a possibility. “Our advertising will evolve as time goes on,” he says. “But we’ve had really good success so far.”