Surfing the Rising Pet Tide

Patrycja Malinowska
Director, Member Content, P2PI
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Petco rolls out new campaign as it removes pet food/treat products that fall below nutrition standards

Petco rolled out a comprehensive marketing campaign to support the nutrition standards it recently introduced as part of a broader repositioning that addresses changes in the marketplace.

The retailer began removing pet food and treat products that fall below its new standards from shelves in January and will complete the process by May. Products with artificial ingredients such as benzaldehyde, FD&C Red No. 3, methyl anthranilate, butylated hydroxyanisole and others are getting the axe. That includes items from dog brands Nestle-Purina’s Beggin’, Mars Inc.’s Pedigree and J.M. Smucker Co./Big Heart Pet’s classic Milk-Bone, as well as cat brands such as Mars’ Sheba and Purina’s Friskies, Fancy Feast and Whisker Lickin’s.

A “Better Nutrition” page within details the merchandising evolution, offering a letter from chief executive officer and “pet parent” Ron Coughlin, who took the helm last June.

In stores, a lineup of window posters plugs the new nutrition standards and promises healthier pets. Aisle violators check off the positive nutritional attributes (such as “no artificial flavors,” “grain-free” and “high quality proteins”) of the brands remaining on shelves, letting shoppers easily compare and contrast the products based on nutrition.

One endcap corrals “fresh new options for even more healthiness,” including bone broths and freeze-dried raw mixers from brands such as Solid Gold Pet’s flagship and Nature’s Variety’s Instinct. Upfront, brands such as Tyson Pet Products’ True Chews, Nestle’s Merrick, Mars’ Royal Canin and Central Garden & Pet Co.’s Nylabone (for its natural “healthy edibles”) earn prime secondary merchandising space on rolling racks and floorstands. Brands such as Canidae (which launched a company farm to be directly involved in growing its own ingredients) get extensive in-line displays.

Petco also is promoting new additions to its lineup that meet higher standards. Most recently in March, the retailer added Champion Petfoods’ Acana and Orijen dog and cat foods to all stores and Email blasts and social media activity touted the brands’ arrivals.

Petco’s own Wholehearted private label also gets the spotlight with prime merchandising space on upfront rolling racks as well as on endcaps and in-line, with plenty of supporting signage. Online, a variety of digital activity including social media activation supports.

The repositioning differentiates Petco as the first and only major pet retailer to take a stand against artificial ingredients and reflects the growing importance of nutrition as a top concern of pet owners. According to a recent survey by Rockville, MD-based market research firm Packaged Facts, 57% of dog owners and 55% of cat owners agreed that “fear of pet food contamination/product safety is a key consideration in the dog foods/cat foods I buy,” while more than 60% of dog and cat owners admitted that they’re worried about the safety of the pet food, treats and chews they purchase.

Even Walmart is improving its pet food game, this year adding General Mills’ Blue Buffalo Co. pet food to its lineup and giving it a dedicated endcap display. The premium brand sold exclusively at pet specialty retailers and online until 2017, when it first entered the mass market by expanding distribution of its entry-level Life Protection Formula line to Target, Meijer, Kroger and Publix.

As the pet nutrition tide rises, Petco wants to remain on the top. The retailer still doesn’t stock specialty brands like Fromm Family Foods’ flagship and dehydrated, human-grade dog food brand The Honest Kitchen, but today shoppers can find raw, freeze-dried and even vegan pet food in the chain’s aisles.

Driving Petco’s continued retail and marketing transformation efforts are chief stores officer Justin Tichy and chief marketing officer Tariq Hassan, both of whom stepped into the positions last fall.

The retailer gains support from newly selected strategic media agency of record Horizon Media, New York. Horizon will combine data and technology to deliver fully integrated media planning and buying across paid channels, and strategic integration with the retailer’s new creative agency of record, Los Angeles-based Anomaly, as well as Chicago-based Edelman, Petco’s PR agency of record. Anomaly is charged with delivering bold creative ideas and counsel on Petco’s omnichannel and consumer engagement strategies, with a targeted focus on digital – where change is also taking place.

Most recently, Petco absorbed the Drs. Fosters and Smith e-commerce business it had acquired in 2015 into Founded as a mail order seller of canine medications, Drs. Fosters and Smith at the time of the acquisition had grown to be one of the largest online pet retailers in the U.S. The change streamlines operations to allow Petco to better focus on its core business, and the retailer is continuing to offer home delivery of pet prescriptions though a new alliance with healthcare company Express Scripts.