Category Catalyst

As category-killers like Petco continue to erode supermarket sales of pet food and supplies, Publix Super Markets is using a unique tactic it hopes will make it a pet owner's best friend. The Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer funded an innovative sampling program involving 400,000 copies of pet-training DVDs for animal shelters in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee. Called Training

As category-killers like Petco continue to erode supermarket sales of pet food and supplies, Publix Super Markets is using a unique tactic it hopes will make it a pet owner's best friend.

The Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer funded an innovative sampling program involving 400,000 copies of pet-training DVDs for animal shelters in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Called “Training Your Adopted Dog” and “Your Adopted Cat: Everything You Need to Know about Your Newest Family Member,” the videos are designed to prevent animals from being returned to shelters for behavior problems. First-time pet owners who make an adoption at the shelters receive the DVDs for free. The Publix logo appears on the front and back of the DVDs, along with the statement “Provided with support from Publix.”

The DVDs address subjects such as house-training, chewing, obedience and nutrition. Each contains a coupon book with discounts on such brands as Iams, Purina, Snausages, Pedigree, Hartz, Sergeant's, Cat's Pride, Tidy Cats and Frosty Paws. The coupons are redeemable only at Publix.

The effort is designed to show that Publix recognizes pets are an important part of family life, spokeswoman Maria Brous told SN.

“We are reinforcing the message that we are committed to total family care,” Brous said. “We understand the importance of children and animals within the family unit.”

The DVDs are a result of a partnership between Publix and Tarpon Springs, Fla.-based PetsIncredible, creator and distributor of the DVDs.

PetsIncredible is using the Publix-supplied funds to distribute the DVDs to pet shelters for free. PetsIncredible typically charges shelters 99 cents per DVD.

“Shelters are very underfunded, so every penny helps,” said Eric Theis, senior vice president of PetsIncredible, a division of Animal Planet Media.

While PetsIncredible has conducted free DVD distribution programs with funding from manufacturers like Hill's Pet Nutrition, this is its first involvement with a supermarket.

“We approached Publix because we know they offer a ton of pet supplies,” Theis said.

Theis described the initiative as a win-win situation, saying pet shelters get free assistance, while Publix is able to attract pet owners to its stores.

“The program shows people that when they adopt a pet, they can go to a supermarket for help,” he said.

PetsIncredible is giving the DVDs to a total of 500 shelters. About half have already been distributed.

The initiative comes at a time when pet spending has more than doubled from $17 billion in 1994 to an estimated $38.4 billion in 2006, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Greenwich, Conn.

About 63% of U.S. households own a pet, and 45% of U.S. households own more than one pet.

But supermarket sales have been hurt by category-killers and mass merchandisers. Drug stores, too, are competing more heavily in pet. While dog food is one of the largest categories in terms of sales at food stores, sales are growing faster in drug stores. For instance, drug store sales grew 10% to $50.9 million for the 52 weeks ending May 21, 2006. During the same period, supermarket sales slipped 1.2% to $2.5 billion.

Food stores have fought back in a variety of ways, from launching impressive pet aisles to creating pet clubs.

Publix's DVD effort is the latest tactic. By aligning itself with new pet owners, Publix can attract an entire new group of consumers to its stores, Theis said.

“This is a way for Publix to keep its customers from going to retailers like Petco,” he said.

Companies participating in the coupon booklet benefit as well, Theis added.

“This enables the marketers to communicate with new pet parents who have not formed any brand loyalty yet,” he said.