Profile: Alternative thinker - Guy Longworth, Marketing director, Marlow Foods

Vegetarians around the country will no doubt be tucking into turkey-style slices come Christmas Day. Guy Longworth won't be joining them.

The marketing director of Marlow Foods, a confirmed meat-eater, will almost certainly be carving up a real turkey at the table. Is there a heretic in the midst at the owner of meat substitute Quorn?

Not so, says the man who has been at the centre of the brand's attempts to convince omnivores that it is not just for vegetarians. Indeed, Longworth is particularly keen to highlight the positioning of the mycoprotein line (fungus to the uninitiated) as a mainstream, healthy alternative to meat.

'I like it, especially in spaghetti bolognese,' he says.

This comes across as a stark statement that is typical of Longworth's decisiveness. He proposed to his American wife just six weeks after meeting her. Some 13 years on and three children later, he describes it as the 'best decision I ever made'.

The 39-year-old began his career at Procter & Gamble, where he worked on brands including Head & Shoulders and Oil of Olay. After four years, he decided to give it all up and see the world.

Although his friends described the decision as madness, he secured a trade marketing position at Kraft just a month after his return, and went on to become brand manager for one of Britain's oldest brands, Bird's Custard, before joining Kellogg as marketing manager, overseeing the Coco Pops brand.

He joined Kellogg at a turbulent time; the group was undertaking a European harmonisation drive, which included the remarkable decision to rename Coco Pops as Choco Crispies - a change Longworth claims he attempted to stop, and which triggered a steady stream of furious letters from consumers.

The company managed to turn it around as Longworth spearheaded a campaign encouraging consumers to vote for the brand name they preferred. Not surprisingly, 99% voted for a return to Coco Pops.

Longworth's exit from Kellogg in 2002 provoked speculation that he had been ousted from his role - something he denies. For the record, Kellogg says it was by mutual consent.

He joined Marlow Foods a year later, which he describes as 'an obvious choice'. A friend working for a private equity firm tipped him off about the company and he was keen to take a stake.

'Quorn presented a really interesting marketing challenge,' he explains.

'There is a genuine misunderstanding of the brand among consumers, combined with a huge potential for growth.'

Owen Lee, creative director at Farm Communications, Quorn's creative agency, says Longworth has been key to driving this growth across the business. 'Few marketing directors would have spotted such huge potential in a niche brand,' he says. 'Even fewer would have been brave enough to act on it.'

Longworth has overseen an impressive period of new product development, with 50 launches in the past two-and-a-half years. Further launches are planned for 2006.

The brand has also benefited from consumers' concerns over the quality of meat and their desire to reduce the amount of meat they eat. 'Health scares and the work of people such as Linda McCartney have grown the market for vegetarian options,' says Longworth.

This potential for growth received a huge boost following Marlow's acquisition in June by Premier Foods. It intends to invest in the business to maximise the potential of the Quorn range, which was worth £100m in October.

The opportunities presented by the food-service sector and school catering are viewed as key. Parents are concerned about what their kids are eating and Quorn offers an option. 'The calories saved from eating two Quorn sausages instead of two meat sausages will save you a trip to the gym,' jokes Longworth.

Marlow Foods' research suggests that 65% of consumers want to improve their diet; Longworth would not need to persuade too many of them to switch to Quorn to turn it into a mega-brand.

CAREER HISTORY 1988-1992: Various sales roles, Procter & Gamble Health and Beauty Care 1993-1994: Various trade marketing roles, Kraft Foods 1995-1997: Senior brand manager, Bird's Desserts and Custard, Kraft Foods 1997-1999: Senior brand manager, rising to marketing manager, kids' brands, Kellogg 1999-2002: Marketing director, UK and Ireland, Kellogg 2003-present Marketing director, Marlow Foods

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