From the February 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Well, it's good news for cows. That's one way to view the growing mainstream acceptance of veggie burgers--a menu item that used to trigger much opposition (if not outright disdain) from legions of hamburger-loving Americans who questioned the very idea of beefing down the quintessential national food.

So much for that particular line of reasoning. Led by such industry stalwarts as Portland-based Gardenburger Inc.--well known for buying advertising time during the final episode of "Seinfeld"--the push to strip veggie burgers of their cult status is heating up.

How so? With an estimated 5 percent of the U.S. population claiming to eat meat-free diets, rumors abound that one or more of the fast-food hamburger chains is considering offering veggie alternatives. On the grocery-store front, burgeoning vegetarian frozen-food sections are wowing at-home diners not only with Gardenburger patties, but with Harvest Burgers and other vegetarian brands as well. Want a slice of the action? Include meatless burgers on the menu of your own eatery--or risk causing patrons to, um, have a cow.

Chain Reaction

Unlocking the youth market.

It's a chain gang of the least ominous sort. We speak of the stylish kids for whom key chains are turning into the fashion accessory of choice. Often attached to backpacks, these far-from-plain-metal rings are all the rage among the lunchbox set.

"It's a status symbol," explains Alan Dorfman, 38, whose Southampton, Pennsylvania-based Basic Fun Inc. manufactures licensed key chains featuring fully functional miniaturized versions of such toys as Etch A Sketch and Operation. "They're neat--[and make for] good conversation pieces." (Even neater, the inexpensive price of key chains makes them collector-friendly for cash-poor kids.)

Estimated to lock up annual retail sales in the neighborhood of $50 million, the market for kids' key chains is proof positive that big things come in small packages. Consider it the key to youngsters' hearts.

In The Ring

Wrestling flexes its muscle.

Step into the ring, America. Fueled by outrageousness, athleticism and a cast of colorful characters like Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Undertaker, professional wrestling is quickly pinning down a level of mainstream success that's every bit as impressive as it is surprising.

"Our shows get 15 rating points [a high rating] every week," says Jim Byrne of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). "We're also the number-one pay-per-view provider. If you look at the top 50 pay-per-view shows, we have half of them. We made $130 million in pay-per-view revenue last year."

If that's not a big enough show of force, however, consider the growing popularity of professional wrestling tie-in merchandise. "Our retail business makes half a billion dollars," says Byrne. "That includes T-shirts, mugs, hats and action figures. It's a huge presence."

So it is. Yet even as more interest is surely being sparked by the recent, jaw-dropping election of former wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura to the governorship of Minnesota, there still remains the question of whether professional wrestling is more entertainment than sport. "We refer to it as sports entertainment," concludes Byrne. "It takes the best of both worlds and brings them together in a way the audience finds extremely entertaining."

Flash!

Combat Zone: Blame it on Oscar front-runner "Saving Private Ryan" or G.I. Joe's enduring popularity, but camouflage clothing and accessories are a hit with today's kids.

The Hole Truth: Despite their fatty reputation--or maybe because of it--doughnuts are enjoying a comeback. Chicago-based marketing research firm Technomic estimates industrywide growth at 3.9 percent for 1997, the most recent stats available. Meanwhile, the Dunkin' Donuts chain continues rolling with plans to open 1,000 new locations in the next three years.

Licensing Alert: Feature films are in the works for both Curious George and Dr. Seuss. Can merchandising be far behind?

Contact Sources

Basic Fun Inc., (215) 364-1665, genmail@basicfun.com

World Wrestling Federation, c/o Titan Sports Inc., 1241 E. Main St., Stamford, CT 06902, http://www.wwf.com