If the "Soup Nazi" served sandwiches, they would be the all-vegetable patties of Gardenburger Inc.
So says "Seinfeld" fan Eunice Dillon, who also serves as human resource associate for Gardenburger's Clearfield manufacturing operation, which opened in January in the Freeport Center.Dillon said the plant's 111 employees will celebrate - or mourn - the May 14 airing of the final "Seinfeld" episode, complete with Gardenburger commercial, during a special party in Layton Thursday.
"We have plans to have a `Seinfeld' party, where the employees will get together at our local Red Robin, and we are going to eat Gardenburgers and watch the last episode of `Seinfeld' that includes our commercial," Dillon said.
It sounds like a scheme Kramer might dream up: We make burger patties entirely out of vegetables. Then we spend all we've got to advertise them on the biggest TV show of the year.
But Gardenburger is gambling that it might just be crazy enough to work.
Advertisers spending up to $1.7 million for 30-second spots on the much-anticipated final episode will include such megabilliondollar behemoths as Budweiser, Coors, Visa and MasterCard but also the relatively tiny Gardenburger.
Considering that the Portland-based company had just $57 million in sales last year, the launch of a five-week ad campaign that will end up costing nearly $14 million is enough to make any CEO sweat.
But Gardenburger chief Lyle Hubbard believes it's a safe bet that the company's half-minute in the spotlight will pay off with skyrocketing sales.
"I think it's a `will be,' not a `might be,' " Hubbard said.
"If we do this right, and we introduce you to this whole notion of veggie burgers . . . you will associate our name with that category, and forever after, somebody is going to have a really hard time dislodging that from your mind."
But after years of watching Jerry, George and Elaine gulp down corned beef sandwiches, Cheerios and chips by the bagful, will "Seinfeld" viewers really be able to stomach a veggie burger?
Hubbard is confident they will. After all, he came to Gardenburger two years ago from Quaker Oats, where he helped transform rice cakes from a "not-much-better-than-Styrofoam" dud into a $200 million-a-year winner.
To Hubbard, plunking down big bucks for advertising is a calculated risk to push Gardenburger out of its established restaurant and cafeteria niche and onto the mainstream grocery shelves.The publicly traded company has raised an additional $15 million in capital to help cover the cost of the ad blitz, and investors have a lot to gain if the strategy works.
Gardenburger's research indicates that winning brand-name recognition and getting a jump in the emerging market could mean $400 million to $600 million a year in sales - or up to 3,300 percent growth.
Dillon said Gardenburgers already sell in many of Utah's grocery stores and restaurants, and she is confident the new ad campaign will mean a big increase in sales.
"I'm not sure what the thinking behind the `Seinfeld' episode was, other than that it's a popular show and is going to be seen by lots and lots of people," she said. "We have television advertising right now on other shows, too, but we were quite excited about the `Seinfeld' one."
In other words, there's a lot riding on a show about nothing.
Gardenburger has prepared three spots (they haven't said which one will air on "Seinfeld"), all of them retro-style cartoons showing people pushing away meat to munch on vegetable burgers. Actor Samuel L. Jackson supplies the narrative, and they all end with the tag line "Eating Good Just Got Great."
Deseret News business writer Gregory P. Kratz contributed to this report.