Borden Dairy Revisits 'Elsie the Cow' in Brand-Building Effort

March 21, 2012
CEO Steve McCormick discusses company's marketing strategy after bringing back the Borden name and a popular cow.

At 73, Elsie the Cow is still smiling and strong as ever. Borden Dairy Co.'s iconic mascot is making a marketing comeback under the leadership of CEO Steve McCormick.

Elsie's resurgence is part of Dallas-based Borden's overall strategy to make the company more customer and consumer centered in its sales and marketing approach and more effective in its day-to-day operations, says McCormick, a Winthrop University graduate who has led the company since 2009.

The subsidiary of Mexico's privately held Grupo Lala has undertaken initiatives that are more focused on core brands and the products driving profitability. Two of those brands are Borden and Latin America's Lala.

After changing its name from Lala USA to Borden Dairy last year, in July the company reintroduced the Borden brand in several markets, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana and Florida, says McCormick.

The company relaunched the brand with an aggressive marketing campaign through the media, truck graphics and in-store promotions. The campaign featured several new slogans including "No Ordinary Milk" and "The day you have ordinary kids, we'll make ordinary milk."

McCormick says the slogans help consumers understand the 155-year-old company's corporate strategy to offer an elevated product line.

"We want it to taste better, be healthier, and look more attractive than anything else on the market," he says.

Elsie's Comeback and New Products

Another way Borden is forging current strategies with generations of name recognition is by bringing back its marketing superstar, Elsie the Cow.

"Originally, Elsie was a real Jersey heifer who was a tremendous hit with children and their parents," McCormick says.

Recently, Elsie made an appearance at the 2011 BCS National Championship game between Alabama and LSU. She's also appeared at state fairs and community events.

"The appeal is timeless and we couldn't buy any better name recognition," McCormick says.

The company is using that name recognition to introduce new products.

"One example is yogurt. It's a fast-growing product in many forms, and our customers -- grocery stores, convenience stores, and mass merchandisers, continue to see increasing demand from consumers," McCormick says.

The company recently launched a new drinkable yogurt flavors under the Lala brand, such as Horchata, and blended yogurts with new flavors such as mango-papaya and strawberry-kiwi.

So far, the strategy has paid off, says McCormick.

Within the first six months since the launch of the Borden brand in our important southern markets, we have achieved the No. 1 or No. 2 market-share position with single-serve chocolate milk in convenience stores," he says. "Going forward, we expect growth from other similar products as a result of the new branding and the incredible connection that consumers make with Borden and Elsie.

With marketing and new products driving growth, supply chain efficiency becomes even more critical. Borden maintains constant contact with all supply chain stakeholders to ensure a seamless flow.

"Our suppliers are a very important part of our company's success, and we have a strong relationship with all of them -- the farmers, processors, and packaging companies," McCormick says. "We believe in collaboration with them on a continuous basis to assure that we all have alignment on our objectives."

The company has also made significant investments in production facilities that have transformed processing and packaging to become faster and leaner while taking advantage of new technology. The ultimate goal is being met - an enhanced bottom line due to a variety of efforts to save money and expand market share, McCormick says.

Edited by IndustryWeek Managing Editor Jonathan Katz

The Steve McCormick File

We loaded towels and sheets to send them to large customers such as Kmart, Walmart and Target," he explains. "My wife, Patti was teaching young children and so I'd leave for work at 10 p.m. and come home around 7:30 in the morning, just as she left to teach."

McCormick was later promoted to distribution manager. After the Cannon Mills, he worked at Pepsi for 10 years before moving on to Coca-Cola -- first at Coca-Cola Enterprises and then as president and COO of Odwalla Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Coca-Cola Co.

"It was a great experience and we grew Odwalla into a national brand, through distribution growth and innovation," McCormick recalls

Steve then joined WeightWatchers as president of its North American operations before he was appointed CEO of Borden Dairy Co. in 2009.

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