What do you mean by artificial?

100% Natural LogoDid You Run That Copy By Legal?

I used to verify claims in automotive ads and ran them through a strict legal process. I often look at pet food advertising in disbelief. Flimsy and misleading claims abound in the pet marketing space. Yet, these claims seem to elude the kind of competitor challenges and scrutiny common in automotive.  To be clear, pet food is highly regulated, and there are rules about what needs to be in the package as well as on the package.

Is Newer Really Better?

New dog foods are being launched at a dizzying rate, with a clear relationship to trends in human foodsIt’s not clear that trendy new ingredients and formulations are better for dogs than the older foods that have sustained them for decades.  This is a highly controversial area and I’ve chosen not to cover it in my blog up until now.  Some recent coverage of Petco’s change to their product assortment has inspired this post looking at pet retail advertising claims.

Petco logo backwardsReBranding Big Pet(co) With a Bold Claim

Big Box Pet, i.e. Petco and Petsmart, have been struggling a bit recently. Like many big box retailers, they are fighting the onslaught of online retail on their business.  They are both working on strategies to fight back. Petco, the smaller company, has been making bold moves, including experimental stores, focused on all-inclusive pet in-store services. Petco hired a new CEO in June 2018, who in turn hired a new CMO in September.  In November, the company announced it was dropping all products with artificial colors and flavors.  This move was praised for its boldness, with coverage based on their press release appearing in the business and general press, including Forbes, Fortune, and the Associated Press. 

Does This Claim Pass the Sniff Test?

Recently, a blog post at Pet Food Industry by Ryan Yamka caught my eye. Ryan is highly credentialled in pet nutrition with professional experience in petfood manufacturing. He calls Petco out for not being 100% true to their pledge, using his knowledge of the ingredients on, and missing from their “banned list”.   Some of the dropped foods do not contain artificial ingredients, but they do happen to have lower margins than some of the foods that are retained.  He also notes that there are a few foods with artificial ingredients still to be found on their shelves – in private label foods manufactured exclusively for Petco. Other artificial ingredients that are not on the banned list are included in high-margin treats.   The ingredient analysis is a bit too technical for me to verify, but I trust Ryan’s explanation. As a former pet specialty retail marketer, I absolutely recognize the difference between high and low margin brands and categories and agree with his analysis.

Don’t Trust, Verify!

Ryan’s article is the only one I’ve seen that fact-checked Petco’s announcement.  Press coverage of the Petco “no artificial” announcement took the company at their word. If other retailers mentioned it at all, it was generally seen as positive.  Dog food buyers tend to trust their emotions and believe dog food marketing claims that often contain a fair bit of puffery.  I often see dog food and dog treat brands launched with an origin story that involves one person and one pet’s nutrition challenges. Dog owners need to be skeptical of these brands and more accepting of claims made by companies with years of experience based on feeding trials involving many dogs.

Ask Experts and Read the Fine Print

An experienced marketer’s eye can see when a product is being described in boastful rather than verifiable language. Learning petfood labeling jargon is a nerdy task that involves searching industry association sites for definitions but for me, it’s worth the effort.  If you want to become a nutrition and labeling nerd, great!  If you don’t, talk to breeders, kennel and rescue operators, and veterinarians who have practical experience caring for dogs for food recommendations.  Marketing is all about building desire so the retailer can sell what’s in inventory, if you can’t read between the lines, don’t trust it!

Cleo  Parker

Cleo has been showing Bull Terriers in AKC events and working with dogs and dog clubs since she was a teenager. Her professional career has been spent working in marketing insights and analytics in a variety of industries, including automotive, advertising, and pet specialty retail.

Please follow and like us:

Great Source for Dog Marketing Intelligence

Pet Business Professor logo

Barriers to entry are low in many sectors of the dog-related industry.  Which means that there are many small businesses marketing products and services for dogs and other pets.  Many dog product entrepreneurs are fueled by their passion to solve a problem they experienced with their own pets which inspired them to launch their business.   They start with an idea, develop a product or service and then start selling with limited resources for marketing support, let alone market research and analysis.

Enter John Gibbons, the Pet Business Professor.  John maintains a website where he publishes detailed analyses of public data about pet spending, discusses industry trends, and offers guidance on how to get the most out of pet industry trade shows.   This information can help pet businesses of all sizes, but I think should be of particular interest to small companies without the resources to dig into all this data themselves.   I suspect even many mid-size to large businesses are not doing this type of in-depth analysis of data that is publicly available, but not user-friendly in its original form.

You can subscribe to The Pet Business Professor blog via email to get updates when a new article is published.  The industry deep dives don’t come out very often, but they contain a treasure trove of information.  In the weeks leading up to major industry trade shows, like Global Pet Expo and SuperZoo, the Pet Professor will publish maps and attendance strategy guides to help you map out a plan of attack to get the most out of these vast displays from pet product purveyors.

I recommend that everyone in the dog marketing space visit The Pet Business Professor website, you’re certain to learn something of value.

Please follow and like us:

PetCoach Comprehensive In-Store Dog Support System

My husband and I are fans of Shark Tank, and we happened to watch a vintage episode from November 2016 where Pupbox was pitched,  The company was offering a subscription box to puppy owners which followed the puppies with age-appropriate offerings through adulthood, when they switched to an adult dog version of the box.  The segment ends happily as Shark Robert Herjavec makes an offer that the owners accept.

As the owners mentioned the struggles that inspired the business, which involved figuring out what they should be buying for their own pet, it struck me that had they only purchased their dog from a responsible, AKC Breeder of Merit type of breeder, they would not have had so much trouble, as a dedicated dog breeder will follow and support their puppy buyers throughout the puppies’ lifetime and often beyond.

But Pupbox, and in turn, Petco realized that not every dog or puppy buyer is so lucky. People acquire dogs many ways including, from friends and family who no longer want the dog, from rescues and shelters that don’t have the staff to engage in long-term follow-up, as strays that wander into their lives, and from breeders whose motivation to engage with puppy buyers ends at the point of sale. Petco acquired Pupbox in November 2017,  about 5 months after they acquired Petcoach, an online consulting service which also provides the same type of support that comes with a responsibly bred puppy.

In July 2018, Petco announced a retail experiment, turning PetCoach into a retail store in San Marcos, California.  The concept provides a select group of high-quality products and services inside a PetCoach store. Products include high quality, curated food selection, including custom formulations from Petco’s partner Just Food For Dogs and also offers comprehensive online record keeping for dog services available in-store.

In today’s world where specialty retail is under attack from both online vendors and the expanding pet product set in mass retailers, this provides a service level that will be very hard to match.  The question is whether this concept will generate sufficient loyalty and in turn profit, to survive.

 

Please follow and like us:

Furniture Grade Dog Crates are going strong

wooden townhaus dog crate
TownHaus by DenHaus

More than ten years since I first noticed the brand, I’m pleased to see that the furniture grade dog crates by DenHaus are still available.  The only one that looks large enough for a Bull Terrier is the TownHaus which is a rather traditional styled wood piece in a rectangular shape. At close to $400 it’s a lot more than a VariKennel, but it looks very nice and comes in a variety of colors. I really prefer the sleek look of the oval ZenHaus and round BowHaus but given the number of dogs and crates I already have I don’t think any of the Hauses are in my future soon!   This might be a good item for dog show vending at large shows – where they can reach people with passion for dogs and money to spend on high end dog crates.  I have a couple of friends that have put their wood or metal working talents to use making some really cool dog crates so it’s good to see someone make a commercial product from that idea.

In the ensuing years, as dogs are more and more perceived as and treated like family, the availability of furniture-like dog crates has increased dramatically. I think it’s telling that the TownHaus referenced above has decreased in price since I first noticed it in 2009.   A Google search for furniture grade dog crates yields over 2 million results, with the DenHaus products in the middle of page 1 results. Ads served alongside the search show that mass market and online retailers are also getting in the act with wood and wood-like dog crate options.

While DenHaus survives, the website where I first noticed it, Main Street Dog has evolved into a hodgepodge of dog product promotions and dog advice articles.  The site sells advertising and I’m getting the feeling it’s been watching me, I saw several ads for products I researched while writing this post.

Please follow and like us:

I’m Back!

pet supplies plus logo

 

I’m back from my hiatus from blogging while I was working at Pet Supplies Plus in their corporate headquarters, aka Pet Central as a Marketing Analyst. I thought my job and this blog might be a little too close for comfort for their social media policy. That job was eliminated in January, so I feel free to blog again!   I’ve been invited to talk about this blog at the upcoming WordPress Detroit Meetup on April 9, 2018 and hope to have more new content to share there.

Please follow and like us:

Christmas Gifts for Dogs

Dog carrying her wrapped Christmas giftIt looks like good news for pet retailers this holiday season. An annual AP-Petside poll conducted by GfK found that pet owners are planning on spending more on their pets’ Christmas gifts in 2011 than in 2010.  About half (51%) of pet owners plan to buy their pets a Christmas gift, a percentage which has held steady for the past 3 years.   The average expenditure planned is $46, up from $41 last year, with as you might expect,  more affluent households planning to spend more.

Toys are the most popular Christmas present for dogs, followed by food or treats.  Bedding, clothes and grooming supplies round out the top five gift categories for dogs, although one might wonder if those last two are gifts dogs would choose for themselves!

Please follow and like us:

Arf Van Furniture for Dogs by Art Van

Arf Van LogoHome Furnishings Business reports on the launch of Arf Van home furnishings for dogs from Art Van Furniture.   This is the first human furniture player I’ve seen enter this area; the products range from modestly priced dog beds which are similar to those sold in pet stores to hard goods which resemble traditional furniture.   Prices seem in line with Art Van’s moderately priced home furnishings for people.

With dogs considered an integral member of many families, there is definitely a market for dog furnishings  designed to blend in with the overall home decor.  Art Van’s entry into this market is reminds me of Bed Head’s introduction of the Pet Head line of hair and skin care products for pets. The furniture is currently on display in select Art Van stores, but must be ordered either in-store or online. Arf Van items can be shipped to any Art Van retail store at no charge.

 

 

 

Please follow and like us:

PetsMart and GNC create line of pet supplements

PetsMart and GNC recently announced a partnership to create a line of pet supplements available exclusively through PetsMart retailers and website.  The supplement line launches in fall, 2010 according to an article on financial news site CDTV.

This is interesting development marks the convergence of several trends.  Vitamin and supplement usage is increasing for humans,  pet care is becoming more humanized, and people are becoming more interested in premium nutrition for their pets.  This is a great opportunity for both partners; joining two strong brands in an area where there are few well-known competitors.

My concern is that pets may end up being over-supplemented as many of them already eat a nutrionally balanced commercial diet.  If the worst that happens is that some dogs produce expensive urine when they excrete excess vitamins, that’s not a terrible thing.   But dogs as well as people are harmed by overuse of some supplements. Owners should make sure their veterinarians  are aware of the supplements as well as the food that their animals consume.

Please follow and like us:

Proctor and Gamble Purchases Natura Pet Products

Proctor and Gamble recently announced that they had purchased holistic pet food manufacturer Natura Pet Products which describes its products as “The Healthiest Pet Food in the World.”   This action gives P&G entry into the fastest growing segment of the pet food industry with a portfolio of well-respected, selectively distributed brands in that space.   These brands join P&G’s mass market Iams and premium Eukanuba brands and allows the company to leverage Natura’s credibility in holistic and natural pet foods.  Eukanuba has dabbled in this sector with its Naturally Wild products, but the brand does not have strong credibility in this market space.

Natura now sells six brands of pet food and treats. Their EVO brand was one of the first to offer grain-free pet food; other brands focus on simple, organic, and premium quality ingredients.  One thing I appreciate about Natura is a fearless approach to their competition as they offer an online comparison tool where consumers can match their products with competitive pet foods; including other premium and holistic foods.

Some in the “good food” movement for pets seem nervous about one of the world’s biggest consumer packaged good firms acquiring Natura. I see it as a savvy business move by P&G and I suspect they fully  realize the power of these vigilant consumers  both to build and destroy brand equity.  It will be interesting to see how branding, distribution and promotion develop after this ownership change, which is still undergoing regulatory review.

Please follow and like us:

Walmart expands ASPCA partnership

Lend A Paw LogoWalmart is expanding its partnership with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA.) In addition to a line of ASPCA branded products featured in the Walmart pet department in 2008, the companies recently launched a co-branded Facebook page titled Lend A Paw and are sponsoring a Pet Fair in Miami on May 1, 2010.

MediaPost writes about the ASPCA’s promotional efforts including the Facebook page and partnerships with multiple pet product companies to promote April as National Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.  Walmart’s move to associate itself with this well-known animal charity shows that the company takes the pet market seriously and is trying hard to position itself as a caring, pet-friendly company.  This reminds me a bit of Warren G Harding’s promotion of his Airedale, Laddie Boy, as the First Dog, which helped deflect public attention from some of the more colorful aspects of his family life.

Please follow and like us: