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Keep It Cool

Posted: July 18, 2013, 3:00 p.m. EDT

By Hilary Daninhirsch

Today’s pet owners have more food choices than ever, and many stores are stocking an unparalleled variety. Owing to the popularity of raw diets, frozen foods, specifically, are experiencing tremendous growth. But because of the limits to product placement, both retailers and manufacturers must be creative in merchandising frozen pet foods.

Dayton, Ohio-based MiracleCorp Products, manufacturers of Stewart Raw Naturals, pointed out the challenges associated with merchandising, including in-store wiring and the freezer unit itself.

"Depending on the size and style of the freezer, specific wiring specs are required,” said Sharon Burden, marketing department representative. "Once installed, freezer fill is key to air circulation and proper freezer temperature. A temperature alarm is useful in case freezers aren’t located near register areas or in case a door is left ajar, which could ruin the entire freezer load.”

It is essential for employees to be educated on the different benefits of the frozen foods carried in the store. iStock/Thinkstock

To overcome some of the challenges, manufacturers reported being eager to assist their client retailers, starting with the visual.

"We provide freezer clings to our clients and suggest they put empty packaging on the counter to encourage questions about the product,” said Meg Hanceford Meyer, co-owner of The Bear & The Rat, a Denver-based company that manufactures probiotic, frozen dog treats, including Bacon Peanut Barker, Banana Peanut Barker and Choc o’ NOT flavors.

Diana Locke, owner of natural food store Paws Applause in Scarborough, Maine, is a proponent of the freezer clings.

"It’s very important for the manufacturers to provide marketing materials that stick to the freezer,” she said. "I love the magnetized brochure holder. Most manufacturers provide marketing materials and usually a large display for the front of the freezer. These are extremely important to help start the conversation.

"If you have white freezers, you need the wall behind them to pop,” continued Locke, who sells more raw food than canned and kibble combined. "In the beginning I had mine on a small white wall, and customers would walk right by. Now they’re positioned more in the flow of foot traffic with a very bright contrasting wall.

"Customers still are reluctant to open the door without permission,” Locke said. "I have mine positioned close to the counter so I can start the conversation and invite customers to help themselves.”

Location and Look
Tailz is an independently owned pet supply store in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, with a focus on natural pet foods, and it plans to move to a larger space soon.

"In the new location, we will have glass-door freezers to display the product,” said Jill Bladon, owner. "There will be a sign above the frozen food, similar to a supermarket. We also have a standalone freezer that the company wrapped the outside of; it merchandises itself very well.

"Having a glass-door freezer allows for their products to shine,” she said. "The large upright freezers will be located on a wall next to the till in the middle of the new store. The smaller standalone freezer will be located near the entrance of the store. This makes the raw foods very noticeable throughout the store.”

In the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Rachel Agosto manages The Bone Appetite, a specialty pet store and grooming shop that features a standard deep freezer in the store’s food section.

"Our freezer has pictures on the front, as well as pricing, and the food companies generally send pamphlets with all of their info that are readily available for customers to read and/or take home with them,” Agosto said.

Marie Moody, founder of Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee, agreed that a glass-front freezer provides a great visual display.

"Most of us [manufacturers] have freezer clings that we can attach to the front, but I don’t think it’s ever quite the same or as effective as actually being able to see the product in the freezer,” she said.

The Whole Package
If image is everything, then it stands to reason that a product’s packaging is the first impression a consumer receives of that product. That’s why Meg Hanceford Meyer, co-owner of The Bear & The Rat in Denver puts a lot of thought into the product’s packaging, which has won design awards.
"In designing our packaging, we focus on bright, colorful graphics to catch the consumer’s eye and provide clear, concise information and instructions,” said Sharon Burden, representing the marketing department for MiracleCorp Products in Dayton, Ohio. "Our packaging reflects the bond between pet and owner as does our instructional video showing romping in the backyard, taking a walk to preparing and serving your best friend’s meal.”
Stella & Chewy’s uses two vibrant colors (red for Dinners for Dogs and purple for Dinners for Cats) to create a solid visual presence at the retail level by producing a strong block of color whether freeze-dried or frozen.
"The use of proprietary names, such as Duck Duck Goose, adds personality to and memorability for our brand,” said Marie Moody, owner of Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee. "The bold color flavor banners assist with consumers seeking different proteins.”—HD

To that end, Moody said getting samples in the hands of potential customers is crucial. Of course, this is more challenging when the sample is a frozen food, so the company created a line of shelf-stable freeze-dried raw products with the same ingredients as the frozen version.

"When people are using some of the freeze-dried [food], it’s not that big of a jump to try the frozen,” she said. "The real end goal is to try to get [the product] in someone’s hands and get the experience of using the food and understand that it’s not much more work than opening a can; it’s not that big of a deal.”

Stella & Chewy’s plans to launch two varieties of introductory 8.5-ounce packages priced under $5 as another way for customers to sample the product before investing in a larger package.

Not Too Cool for School
Because frozen food is a relative newcomer to the pet food market, consumer and staff education comprises a big part of the merchandising process.

"We do demos at the store level to introduce and educate consumers about the benefits of probiotics for dogs,” Hanceford Meyer said. "We use grassroots techniques, such as demos and social media, to educate consumers about the benefits of our product.”

Every so often customers seek out a new food, either because of a finicky eater or because of a scare with a dry pet food recall. That presents an opportunity to steer the customer toward the frozen food.

"Generally when people aren’t satisfied with their current pet food or they have a picky eater, it’s a good opportunity to introduce them to the raw frozen diet, because dogs and cats primarily are meat eaters, and it appeals to them more than a processed food,” Agosto said.

"It is important to educate the employees in the store on the different benefits, not only of frozen food and raw food in general but of the differences between the raw foods,” Moody said. "And that is why the independent specialty store is such an important channel for the raw food company.”

To that end, Stella & Chewy’s provides in-store training for employees, leaving behind informational brochures to pass along to potential customers.

Locke said she wishes that manufacturers would provide CDs near the frozen products so that customers can learn about the benefits and testimonials.

MiracleCorp helps its customers with merchandising by participating in national advertising and providing printed material at the retail level to educate and inform, a QR code on freezers to direct consumers to the product website for more information, employee training material with free product samples, freezer clings, in-store videos and demonstrations, coupon distribution and a website store locator on where to buy.

"We also participate with store flyers and promotions,” Burden said. <HOME>


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