Pixabay, pet bowls

Word from some indie pet retailers is that Champion Petfoods, maker of Acana and Orijen brands, is planning to start selling products on Chewy.com again beginning in January 2021.

This would reverse the company’s 2017 decision to pull its products from the online retailer’s assortment, having said at the time that, due to PetSmart’s acquisition of Chewy, the e-commerce site no longer met its requirements to sell its Acana and Orijen brand pet foods.

“We choose to work exclusively with pet specialists who have intimate knowledge of our foods and are committed to providing expert advice to pet lovers,” Champion officials had said.

When Pet Product News reached out to Champion in early December, officials said that they were not ready to comment.

“At Champion, we make a practice of not commenting on future plans; however, we will share any 2021 company-related news next year,” Molly Keveney, vice president of consumer engagement and communications at Champion Petfoods, told PPN.

Either way, Champion is hardly the first or only indie-beloved brand to ever sell on Chewy or other e-commerce sites—and it won’t be the last. But for many pet retailers, such announcements tend to sting.

B.C. Henschen, a Pet Product News columnist and partner of Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind., reported that many of his micro-indie retailer counterparts reached out to him to discuss the news—and some were taking it hard.

No surprise there. Retailers stand to benefit greatly—and thus survive despite the onslaught of e-commerce and big-box competition—by having exclusive access to quality brands that are devoted to the independent pet specialty retail channel. It can create a critical point of differentiation between the independent pet stores and their mega-sized rivals, which are often able to offer the same products as indie brick-and-mortar retailers but for less.

Henschen noted that it’s a valid concern.

“Many times, these online only sites are able to sell the product far below the minimum advertised price (MAP) that is set by the manufacturer,” he said. “They will list the price as the MAP but then offer discounts for AutoShip, club membership or coupons that we just cannot compete with.”

Retailers, however, are not without recourse, he said.

“The only thing that we can do is keep an eye on their pricing, and if it falls below MAP, we need to turn it in to the manufacturer, and we should price match any valid online price that we see,” Henschen added. “I can tell you that, regardless of brand, anytime I price match an online price I turn it in to the manufacturer for reimbursement of the difference.”

And if that doesn’t do the trick?

“If a manufacturer won't reimburse or refuses to enforce their MAP, that is a valid reason to dump them,” he added.

Frank Frattini, CEO of The Hungry Puppy, a store in Farmingdale, N.J., is also relatively unruffled by the news.

Frattini told PPN that the Champion sales representative for the territory in which his store is located informed him of the company’s plans in late November, and he wasn’t surprised by the announcement.

“As we had indicated to our Champion rep, it is inconsequential to us as to where their product is sold,” he said. “Our company’s intention is to continue to carry their product line as long as there is a demand for it and it is profitable. Our decision to carry a product is not predicated on where the product is sold.”

However, not every independent retailer is happy with the idea that Champion may be selling on Chewy.

Pattie Zeller, owner of The Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., said she has stuck with the company through tough times, always keeping its products on her shelves despite product line shortages and the fallout from the dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) debate, as well as Champion’s first “foray with the online behemoth.”

“I feel like I helped build their brand, and this final move to Chewy has me looking for a replacement brand,” Zeller told Henschen. “Thank you for biting the hands that built your brand.”

Frattini, on the hand, said he will continue selling Champion products.

“We believe that the product quality has not diminished and as long as demand for the product continues, it is our intention to continue developing a partnership with Champion to successfully grow their brand in our store.”

If nothing else, this development may serve as a good reminder for some retailers to rethink or tweak their sales strategies, Henschen said.

“Your store should have customers that are loyal to you over the brand,” he added. “That is one of the reasons I stress rotating customers on to different manufacturers throughout their dog’s life span. You want them loyal to you, not to a brand. If you are going to see a huge decline in sales over products being available online, you are in for some trouble.”

Frattini added, “Our company’s philosophy is the belief that we are not selling products—we are selling ‘us.’ That includes all the competitive advantages we provide to our customers in addition to the resources that we make available to our manufacturer partners that makes ‘us’ unique and worth doing business with.”

For more of PPN's coverage on Champion Petfoods, read:

For more of PPN's coverage on the cardiomyopathy (DCM) debate, read: