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Product Merchandiser Focus: Frozen Pet Food

Posted: May 21, 2013, 2 p.m. EST


As frozen foods increase in popularity, retailers and manufacturers must be creative in merchandising these diets.
By Hilary Daninhirsch

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

Stewart Raw Naturals is manufactured by Dayton, Ohio-based MiracleCorp, and the company pointed out some challenges associated with merchandising, including "in-store wiring and the freezer unit itself.

Merchandising Frozen Diets for Pets
It is essential for employees to be educated on the different benefits of the frozen foods carried in the store. Courtesy of Paws Applause
"Depending on the size and style of the freezer, specific wiring specs are required," said Sharon Burden, representing the company's marketing department. "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 in case a door is left ajar, which could ruin the entire freezer load."

To overcome some of the challenges of merchandising frozen pet food, manufacturers report 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 the natural food store Paws Applause in Scarborough, Maine, is a proponent of the freezer clings.

"It’s very important for the manufactures 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 the customer to help themselves.”

Freezer location also is essential for other retailers.

Merchandising Frozen Food for Pets
Retailers use freezer clings to draw attention to the freezers and educate about the foods. Courtesy of Paws Applause
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; 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. They keep a standard-deep freezer in the food section of the store.

"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 Milwaukee-based Stella & Chewy’s, agreed that a glass-front freezer works well to get customers over to look at the frozen food offerings.

"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.

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 of the food.

"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 too 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.”

Merchandising Frozen Food for Pets
Glass-door freezers give customers easy view of the frozen food offerings. Courtesy of Stella & Chewy's

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

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 this end, Stella & Chewy’s provides in-store training for employees, leaving behind informational brochures that can then be passed 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 customer 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.

Packaging

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 put a lot of thought into the product’s packaging, resulting in design awards for its ‘fun and bold’ labeling that piques a customer’s attention.

"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 sold on-shelf as freeze-dried or in the freezer as 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, Wis. "The bold color flavor banners assist with consumers seeking different proteins.”

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