Campaigns: Food and drink - Mushrooms are magic for dieters

Campaign: Mushrooms: The Magic Ingredient for Slimming
Client: The Mushroom Bureau
PR team: Mustard Communications
Timescale: November 2008-ongoing
Budget: £17,000

Background

One in four adults in Britain now qualifies as obese, and doctors and nutritionists have long been warning of an obesity time-bomb. A trial diet carried out in America showed 54 people who swapped meat for mushrooms in some of their weekly meals all lost weight.

The Mushroom Bureau, which represents mushroom farmers and traders in the UK, decided to commission a campaign based around a real-life diet trial. Mustard Communications recruited ten volunteers to take part in a diet replacing meat with mushrooms, offering a full makeover to the top three dieters.

They decided to run the campaign results around the New Year, which is traditionally a time when people start to think about improving their diets and losing weight.

Objectives

- To show the possible weight loss benefits of replacing meat with mushrooms in people's diets

- To promote mushrooms as a cheap alternative to meat

- To tap into the annual enthusiasm for diets and healthy eating associated with the New Year

- To make people think more about healthy eating and lifestyle.

Strategy and plan

Mustard used the US research, which found people who swapped meat for mushrooms lost weight. The campaign team recruited leading nutritionist Sarah Schenker to manage and administer a five-week diet programme.

Having been advertised in two north London papers (the Ilford Recorder and the Barking and Dagenham Recorder), the diet trial began in the second week of November.

During the trial Schenker and the team organised weekly weigh-ins at a local community hall, and the volunteers produced vodcast 'diet diaries', which are now available on the Mushroom Bureau website, www.mushroom-uk.com.

The trial was scheduled to finish before Christmas so that the campaign could launch its media coverage at the end of December. This meant it benefited from the seasonal 'New Year's resolution' impetus for dieting after the Christmas holiday, which is an important sales time for mushroom farmers and traders.

Now the diet trial is over, the team plans on using coverage in specialist nutrition and diet magazines alongside the website to promote the Mushroom Bureau's range of slimming mushroom recipes.

The current coverage will feed into Mustard's planned spring and summer healthy eating campaigns for the Mushroom Bureau, as it continues to promote mushrooms as 'the magic ingredient for health, taste and versatility'.

Measurement and evaluation

The campaign was first covered in an exclusive with the Daily Express, and follow-up stories appeared in India, the US and Australia. In the UK there have been 31 pieces of coverage so far, reaching an audience of more than seven million people.

The coverage to date has been worth about £180,000. Hello! magazine ran a double-page spread on the mushroom diet this month, and ten specialist health and dieting magazines have lined up coverage.

Results

The Mushroom Bureau's website recorded 4,000 unique users in the first ten days of January, compared with 1,500 for the whole of January 2008.

The health plan was successful, with the volunteers losing an average of 12.71 pounds each.

The top dieter lost one-and-a-half stone and the ten volunteers lost a combined total of just over nine stone.

The diet was popular with the participants, who all said that they found it as satisfying as the meat alternative.

SECOND OPINION - CAROLINE KINSEY, DIRECTOR, CIRKLE

Promoting food by hyping alleged weight loss credentials is nothing new, but to its credit, Mustard hasn't relied on anecdotal evidence, questionable 'research' or supposed celebrity connections - instead constructing a robust trial using real members of the public.

The study was well thought out and appears to have met its key objectives of promoting mushrooms as a cheap, low-calorie, yet healthy alternative to meat, while at the same time urging consumers to think more about their diets and lifestyles.

Putting the volunteers 'vodcast diet diaries' on the website was also a good strategy, allowing perceived direct access to the views of those taking part compared with the edited versions appearing in print.

Importantly, the weight loss results were impressive, with consumers easily able to replicate the eating plans and recipes.

However, the campaign evaluation appears fairly lightweight, with very few quantitative results. While the exclusive coverage in the Daily Express was impressive, the overall coverage of 31 pieces does not state how this is broken down to the different media channels.

A fairly controversial point is that of using AVE and PEV - personally I'm a supporter if it helps clients justify ROI internally.

Overall an impressive case study that gives strong evidence of success through the consumers' weight loss. It has definitely given me food for thought.

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