Famous Refrigerators

That voice is unmistakable. It's Mr. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" himself, Robin Leach, doing the voice-over as a camera pans from shelf to shelf in model Christie Brinkley's refrigerator. It's stuffed with Maine lobster, long-stemmed strawberries, Dom Perignon champagne, Godiva chocolates and . . . what's this? Mere yogurt?

No. It's Bon Lait fromage frais.

Eh?

A household name it isn't, but the Los Angeles manufacturer of this yogurt-type food (pronounced fro-MAZH fray), long a big seller in Europe, hopes to cultivate some awareness with a $1-million-plus ad campaign breaking on Monday night's Academy Awards show.

"Refrigerators of the Rich and Famous," created by Mendelsohn/Zien Advertising of Los Angeles, will also feature the icebox of actress Lauren Bacall, complete with game hens, tuna fish in a can, Beluga caviar and imported kiwis. Bacall and Brinkley represent just the uptown types the manufacturer is after. "We're targeting toward women 18 to 49, fairly upscale, fairly well educated, who select products primarily on taste, then health, then nutrition, then price," said Dudley Callahan, 39, president of Atlantis Dairy Products.

With a new plant in Huntington Park, south of downtown, Atlantis claims to be the first company to have brought the fromage frais, or fresh cheese, concept to the United States. Its Bon Lait brand, in plain or six fruit flavors, hit Southern California grocery store shelves in February and is now sold in more than 1,000 locations, right alongside the 125 or so brands of yogurt.

The product, which Callahan describes as a "stage in the development of soft cheese," has been made for more than 100 years in France, where sales are growing three times faster than those of yogurt, according to Atlantis. Germans know it as quark.

Callahan notes that fromage frais uses three times as much milk as yogurt and is higher in protein. He also describes it as more creamy, smoother, less acidic and easier to digest. (Callahan acknowledges that frequent yogurt eaters might find fromage frais a bit chalky, but he contends that the benefits outweigh that complaint.)

"It takes a hell of a lot of nerve to come in with a new grocery item, especially in that dairy case in Southern California," Callahan said. "For us, it will be a real effort to educate people."

And, once that's accomplished, Atlantis might have some competition on its hands. "Dannon and Yoplait are looking right at us," Callahan said. "They already make the product in Europe."

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