Getting to the Meat
Mastering merchandising and display of products in the pet food category
Group similar items together in unique, eye-catching ways, and take advantage of manufacturer’s displays.
photos courtesy of Petagogy
Among canned, bagged, frozen, organic, raw and freeze dried—not to mention age- or breed-specific choices—the options keep growing. Retailers and manufacturers must find a way to differentiate their products to maximize sales potential.
Partnering With Retailers
Many manufacturers try to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with their retail partners.
Party Animal, an organic pet food company in West Hollywood, Calif., takes a hands-on approach with merchandising, offering promotional assistance to retailers, including events, contests and in-store promotions.
“We love to share pages and photos any time a retailer posts about our brand on social media platforms to encourage consumers to visit their store,” said Shawna Abrams, president and co-founder.
Jill Bladon, owner of Tailz in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, displays information provided by manufacturers.
“We also work on Did You Know informational tags to display unique products,” she said.
Wellness, a brand of WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., also takes a personalized approach to working with retailers to partner on promotions that encourage consumer education and loyalty, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications.
Displaying Limited Stock
Not every retailer can carry every pet food on the market. Two Bostons, which has stores in the Chicago area, only carries grain-free products, which automatically reduces a consumer’s choices. AdreAnne Tesene, who owns the store with her husband, Andy, said she does extensive research before deciding which foods to carry.
“Merchandising coordinating cans along with bags of kibble works well,” Tesene said. “We also love to talk about the importance of increasing moisture consumption for pets’ health. This allows us to talk about adding cans, reconstituted dehydrated or raw into [a customer’s] rotations.
“When we run a promotion on a certain food, we go all out with additional big displays in the front of the store since our food shelving is toward the back of the store,” she added.
Another merchandising tip is to discuss food at the register when a customer is checking out with only nonfood items. This opens up a dialogue and gives the retailer the opportunity to give samples or dietary tips, Tesene said.
With 1,800 square feet to work with, Petagogy in Pittsburgh must limit its stock, though it continually brings in new brands after a careful selection process, said co-owner Heather Blum.
“We organize our food into sections (kibble, raw, can, etc.) and incorporate displays within each section to show how foods can complement each other (e.g., freeze dried can be mixed in with kibble, etc.),” Blum said.
Kibble remains a best-seller, but sales are increasing in raw and raw alternative categories, Blum noted.
Bladon of Tailz stocks many Canadian brands.
“Customers like supporting brands made in our country and, ultimately, our economy,” she said, adding that she also stocks brands customers have requested as well as special orders food.
“Similar items need to be grouped together and faced toward where customers enter to catch their eye,” Bladon said. “And clean shelves are important.”
Wellness ensures consumers have enough information to make a well-informed buying choice.
“We develop displays that point out nutritional benefits,” Leary-Coutu said.
Party Animal’s Abrams reported seeing retailers successfully create sections in the store for specific categories, such as organic, along with signage and shelf talkers.
“The amount of time people spend reading lengthy signs is minimal,” she said. “Graph and bullet-point signage tends to work best rather than lengthy paragraph signage.”
On the manufacturers’ side, providing eye-catching packaging is effective. Party Animal recently redesigned its packaging with a new look and feel.
“It includes Party Animal’s updated logo with eye-catching colors, easy-to-read fonts and a clean, fresh look,” said Abrams.
Bravo Pet Foods also recently redesigned its packaging.
“Since many of our foods are frozen, our display options are limited,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for the Manchester, Conn., company. “So when we designed our packaging, we created a billboard effect, highlighting each product’s protein type, purpose and benefits in order to make product selection easier for consumers.”
Sampling the Merchandise
Free samples are another effective merchandising technique.
“We’d rather them be certain that their pet will eat the food and come back rather than buy a bag and be disappointed when their animal doesn’t like it,” Petagogy’s Blum said.
Two Bostons not only provides samples—it offers a guarantee.
“We exchange food until we find something that works well and makes their pet go crazy at dinnertime,” Tesene said.
—Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.
Education Across Channels
Educating consumers is essential to the pet food market. Building trust between the client and the sellers is vital, especially for today’s savvy pet owners. Interact with customers and be available to answer questions or concerns, several industry sources reported.
“We only stock foods that we trust and that we would and do feed our own pets,” Blum said. “Customers like that we take the guesswork out of choosing pet food as they know they can trust the brands we carry.”
Companies take advantage of the many ways to share information, from social media to written materials to videos and in-store demonstrations.
Petagogy has created fliers about the ingredients in the food the store carries so customers are armed with knowledge and can compare the foods to grocery store brands, Blum said.
“It’s all about educating our customers and ensuring they feel great about what they are doing for their pets,” Tesene said. “Empowering them with all of the information they need to make the best choices for their pets and lifestyle is what it’s all about.”
Bravo sees education as crucial, in that the raw pet food market is relatively new. To that end, Schubert said, the company publishes a quick-read educational booklet for consumers that retailers can send home with buyers.
“We also have a series of educational videos on our website that cover a number of topics,” Schubert said. “We field lots of direct questions from consumers about selecting the right products for their pets, as well.”
For retailers, Bravo offers in-store training with sales teams and an online training program that can be accessed at any time, as well as in-store demonstrations.
Wellness educates consumers and retailers across channels. The company’s website features videos, blog posts, consumer testimonials and detailed nutritional information, as well as a special site for retailers.
“We also have an on-staff veterinarian who plays a key role in educating pet parents about how to sustain overall pet health and well-being,” Leary-Coutu said. “The more informed pet parents are about the nutrition they’re feeding pets, the happier and healthier pets will be.”