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Brown-Forman's Fetzer: How "Going Green" Is Paying Off

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CNBC.com photo composite

How important to you is this whole 'green' phenomenon? The folks at publicly traded spirit giant Brown-Forman are betting a million bucks it's very very important to you.

Brown-Forman just the latest in a long line of corporate giants that are leveraging the whole 'green' and 'sustainability' topics in the market place. One thing that makes them different--it's real.

Fetzer Vineyards is owned by B-F and has been doing the 'green' thing for over 20 years. Located in the little, and I mean little, Northern California town of Hopland, 60 miles north of Santa Rosa, Fetzer runs its tractors on vegetable oil, powers its 'rammed earth' headquarters building with solar panels, and its made out of recycled wood.

So where does the million dollars come in?

Marketing baby. When you have a good story, you need to tell it, and that's where Ann Thrupp comes in. She's 'Manager of Organic Development' and not only oversees Fetzer's sustainability measures, but has become a 'road warrior' to tell the story. Fetzer is shipping her and a 'green' booth to over 30 U.S. cities, hitting festivals from Cleveland to Seattle--all 'pitching' Fetzer's story.

Brown-Forman has also poured on shelf marketing into the brand---bottle 'hangers' touting Fetzer's 'environmentally friendly' approach to growing grapes and making wine. The brand ships over 2 million cases a year--making it one of the top ten names at retail nationwide-- had been slipping in sales. Down two or three per cent. Down is not good. So they went looking for a 'differentiator'--something to make them stand out in the very competitive $6 to $8 a bottle category.

Green--it's a good story, it's true, and more importantly--now is the time. Consumers are taking to 'sustainable' cuisine and food safety issues like never before.

Guess what? It's working. Sales up 6 per cent. How important is it to you, this whole 'green' phenomenon? Important enough. Cheers!

'Mike On America' will be traveling across the Midwest next week. We'll look for you along the road.

Questions? Comments? mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com