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Make a Pet Food Plan

Strategically placing dog and cat food within your pet store can lead to greater add-on sales, more trials of new diets and a better shopping experience for the consumer.


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Pet food—the heart of the pet supply store—most often is the primary reason that customers enter your store. Some pet owners are brand loyal and make a beeline directly for their tried-and-true food; others are interested in exploring myriad choices on the shelves. Either way, retailers must find ways to be on top of new pet food and to merchandise it effectively.

Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., is expanding its freeze-dried food lines for both dogs and cats.

“Our newest raw is Raw Bistro, which uses all organic and grass-fed/finished, free-range ingredients,” said owner Lorin Grow. “It’s been available elsewhere in the country, but it’s [fairly] new to the West Coast.

“We also brought in a new kibble called Open Farm, which is actually certified humane—something not often seen, especially in pet foods, and a certification we’re very excited about,” she added.

Especially for Pets, which has several stores in the Greater Boston area, recently began stocking Acana Heritage formulas due to its quality ingredients, responsible sourcing and pricing, said Colby Greenhalgh, store manager. Other newer products being carried in the stores include Weruva dry dog food in six flavors and Primal Pet Foods’ venison freeze-dried flavor, she said. 

“Open Farm has been in our assortment for about a year, and it is really starting to pick up now,” Greenhalgh added.

To keep up with consumer preferences, manufacturers regularly add to their existing lines. For example, last November, Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis., introduced two grain-free recipes: Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Hasen Duckenpfeffer for dogs and Fromm Hasen Duckenpfeffer for cats.

“Both recipes pay homage to our German roots and are inspired by the traditional German rabbit stew,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director. “They feature rabbit and duck together with potatoes, carrots and celery and are designed to complement the many other recipes within the Four Star line.”

In April, San Diego-based The Honest Kitchen launched Proper Toppers.

“Proper Toppers are dehydrated, ready-to-eat complete and balanced products that can be fed as a whole food topper, complete meal or even as a delicious treat,” said Lucy Postins, founder and CEO. “They’re made from 90 percent meat plus healthful, whole superfood ingredients like pumpkin, blueberries, chard and apples.”

And consumers and retailers alike can look forward to a number of new wet and dry food recipes for both cats and dogs recently launched by Wellness, a brand of WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications.

Just some examples include Wellness Complete Health Grain-Free for dogs in Deboned Chicken & Oatmeal, Lamb & Barley and Whitefish & Sweet Potato; Wellness TruFood Complements for dogs in such flavors as Chicken Breast, Chicken Liver & Broccoli in Broth and Tuna, Beef & Carrots in Broth, as well as four recipes for cats, including Flaked Salmon & Tuna in Broth and Shredded Chicken Breast & Flaked Mackerel in Broth, Leary-Coutu said.

 

Set Apart to Sell

Pet food is the predominant product on any pet retailer’s shelves; any number of categories can be delineated for merchandising purposes.

“We categorize by species and by type or form of food. Kibbles are together, cans, freeze-dried/dehydrated have their own aisle, and then frozen,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif.

Furry Face also merchandises not by brand but by type or form of food, which Grow said led to a noticeable uptick in sales and positive consumer feedback.

“Clients who have made decisions on what form of food they like to feed prefer to shop that entire category,” she said.

Especially for Pets, which has several locations in Greater Boston, takes a different approach and does display by brand.

“We are giving a lot of space to each brand and each individual SKU,” said Colby Greenhalgh, store manager.

For example, with some labels, Especially for Pets is starting to display cases of cans next to dry food as well as within the can category, Greenhalgh said.

“It is much easier to merchandise, easier to see and easier for customers to shop,” she said. “For example, we have been able to sell Weruva dry dog [food] because customers love the cans. You are getting the customer to look at an item they may have never seen.”

This also is the merchandising strategy at West Lebanon Feed & Supply in West Lebanon, N.H.

“We have found that separating the products by brand lends to a customer trying new products that the brand they purchase may introduce,” said president Curt Jacques. “Since for the most part they trust the brand, they are more willing to try another offering from that same brand.”

“With a decline in organic products and an uptick in grain-free diets that so many of the existing companies offer, it is our opinion that consumers are less willing to trade their brand for a trend if their company already offers it,” he added. “We thought about separating grain free, organics, holistic, naturals and the like, but we feel it would be too confusing for customers to have to shop for the same brand in a different location in our store.”

Another way to set foods apart is by usage.

“We recommend that items be merchandised by consumers’ intent to use,” said Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego. “For example, Proper Toppers should be merchandised with freeze dried, since the usage is so similar. Our best retailers also locate dehydrated, freeze-dried foods in one category set, close to the freezer section. This creates a ‘health food’ destination within the store that’s easier for shoppers to navigate.”

 

 

Pet Food Display Strategies

Retailers can get as creative as they’d like when it comes to displaying pet food; the challenge is the overwhelming variety of this product category.

“We counsel our retail partners to display all natural options together, as this is a very distinct pet parent profile,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior marketing manager, marketing communications, for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass. “Within the natural pet food and treats display section, we typically see our brand broken out by dog versus cat, pet size (large versus small or toy breed) and wet versus dry food.”

Retailers should pay special attention to meal toppers, said Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego.

“A prominent tabletop or endcap display of [our] Proper Toppers and other similar products can help to increase awareness of the ‘toppers and mixers’ category, and lead to incremental add-on sales for the retailer,” Postins said.

West Lebanon Feed & Supply in West Lebanon, N.H., places all of its bagged and dry pet food on black 32-inch-wide pallet shelving that is 7 feet tall, with full cases of canned food on the bottom and loose cans on the shelves above for easy access, said president Curt Jacques.

“Raw food begins the pet food section and two two-door freezers announce the beginning of our pet food traffic pattern,” Jacques said. “Our canned dog and canned cat food is separated by cat pans, liners, scoops, etc., to break the two sections.”

Jacques recommends daily housekeeping, aligning the products so that the bags are all uniform, and keeping larger bags on the bottom shelf.

“The best selling space is from the waist to the eye,” he said. “[Having] smaller bags at eye level tends to make [customers] come back more often, so your impulse sales and other featured products will help with added sales.” 

Showing pricing on magnetic strips or shelf talkers is important for comparing prices with other brands, he added. 

So where in the store should pet food be kept?

“Because pet food is a planned purchase, make sure that you display it toward the back of the store so they have to walk past the dog beds, crates, toys, treats, etc.,” Jacques said. “This leads to added sales.”

 

Displays and Educational Materials

As pet owners rely on retailers for information, it is important that retailers be well versed in everything they sell. Sometimes that information comes from the manufacturers; at other times, the retailer does the legwork on their own.

Regardless of what materials the manufacturer provides, ultimately, it’s the retailer’s responsibility to curate the best food selections.

A responsible way to relay information is through product labels, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications, for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

“[Labels are] one of the best sources of education for retailers and pet parents looking to better understand what they’re feeding their pets. It is vital for employees to understand and articulate to consumers what exactly they are buying when it comes to their pet food so pet parents can feel good about what they’re giving their dog or cat at mealtime.”—Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications, for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mas

“We find that if every company was allowed to display their message in our store, we would not have room to put their food,” said Curt Jacques, president of West Lebanon Feed & Supply in West Lebanon, N.H. “We are huge on product training, and we want to have the customer rely on us to help them navigate the right choice for their animal.”

Especially for Pets, which has several locations in the Greater Boston area, welcomes training from vendors to educate its staff, said Amy Kinne, director of business development.

“We have always taken advantage of demo days offered by some vendors, and it truly pays off,” Kinne said. “There is a direct correlation to the brands that offer demo support and our top-selling foods.”

The Honest Kitchen in San Diego offers clip strips, channel strips, danglers and a limited number of countertop sample displays to help its products stand out, said Lucy Postins, founder and CEO.

A responsible way to relay information is through product labels, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager, marketing communications, for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

“[Labels are] one of the best sources of education for retailers and pet parents looking to better understand what they’re feeding their pets,” Leary-Coutu said. “It is vital for employees to understand and articulate to consumers what exactly they are buying when it comes to their pet food so pet parents can feel good about what they’re giving their dog or cat at mealtime.” 

The company works with retailers to communicate important information about its ingredients, she said. 

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