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East vs. West in Ice Cream Fight : Breyers' Attempt to Scoop Dreyer's Breeds Confusion

June 19, 1986|DENISE GELLENE | Times Staff Writer

William A. Dreyer never met William A. Breyer, but their ice creams are having trouble getting along in Southern California frozen dairy cases.

Breyers, an East Coast brand, isn't used to being an underdog. It is the nation's best-selling brand but has only recently made its way to Southern California, where it is trying hard to overtake Dreyer's, the leading premium ice cream in the West. Breyers, owned by food industry giant Dart & Kraft, has launched an aggressive advertising blitz to overcome confusion among consumers and capture space in supermarket cases.

Sales Up 10% to 20%

Few at the Oakland headquarters of Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream are worried, saying, in fact, that the Breyers ads have helped. Dreyer's sales increased by 10% to 20% in Northern California stores last summer as confused shoppers purchased what they thought was Breyers.

"It was really quite amazing," said Steven Schickler, a Dreyer's marketing executive.

Some ice cream buyers in the West, familiar with Dreyer's, view Breyers as an imitation, even though the Breyers brand--founded in 1866--is actually 62 years older than Dreyer's.

"Someone is pretty close to infringement on your name," a Las Vegas consumer wrote Dreyer's. "See nearly daily commercials for Breyers ice cream!"

Breyers tries to avoid confusion with ads that stress "It's Breyers with a B." The company even ran a commercial last fall that showed a Breyers carton alongside a Dreyer's carton--"to help show the difference," said Breyers marketing executive Scott Wallace--until Dreyer's objected.

Getting Cold Shoulder

According to Dreyer's, the commercial implied that Dreyer's was not all-natural and therefore violated an agreement between the two companies under which they pledge not to confuse consumers. Breyers says the commercial helpfully pointed out that Dreyer's contains such ingredients as corn syrup and food dyes--and that Breyers does not.

"We suggested consumers read the labels. It's not something they would ordinarily do," Wallace said.

For the most part, West Coast grocers have given Breyers the cold shoulder. The East Coast premium ice cream is less expensive than Dreyer's, so it competes with less-expensive store-brand ice creams. Also, frozen-food buyers from three large supermarket chains in Southern California said they are not convinced that their stores need to stock another premium ice cream.

Currently, Albertson's is the only major chain in Southern California that sells Breyers, which has less than 1% of the ice cream market here. Dreyer's claims 15% of all ice cream sales.

Dart & Kraft, which is reportedly spending about $2 million on statewide television commercials alone, isn't worried. "We expected an uphill battle," Wallace says.

And Dart & Kraft can take cold comfort in Dreyer's battle for East Coast freezer space. Dreyer's, which markets its ice cream in the East under its Edy's brand name, is entering the Baltimore market--a Breyers stronghold--this summer.

"They've been having a difficult time" in the East, Wallace said. "But I'm sure they'll be as persistent there as we are in California."

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