H-E-B'S PRIVATE LABEL FOR KIDS IS GOING TO THE DOGS

SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery here will soon be adding a new character to its popular H-E-Buddy private-label line for kids via an election process that puts its young customers in charge.Now through Sept. 26, kids are being asked to select from three dog breeds that are popular in Texas: the black Labrador, beagle and golden retriever. The winner will become the new companion of the H-E-Buddy

SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery here will soon be adding a new character to its popular H-E-Buddy private-label line for kids via an election process that puts its young customers in charge.

Now through Sept. 26, kids are being asked to select from three dog breeds that are popular in Texas: the black Labrador, beagle and golden retriever. The winner will become the new companion of the H-E-Buddy character. Kids must also select from a list of 10 popular dog names.

H-E-Buddy, a smiling grocery bag, has appeared on the line's packaging since its inception a few years ago. The line now boasts about 70 stockkeeping units representing all Center Store categories, as well as items in the produce and nonfood departments.

"I felt like H-E-Buddy needed a dog," said Jodi Brasiola, promotion manager, H-E-B. "Dogs are pretty popular, and I wanted to take advantage of the fact that it's an election year. I wanted the kids to be able to vote for it."

Currently, kids can vote online at the retailer's Web site, www.heb.com. In-store promotions are slated for this week as well, when ballot boxes will be placed in all H-E-B stores for on-site voting. H-E-Buddy will visit stores during the week, as will veterinarians. Local humane societies will be on hand with real dogs up for adoption. Purina, a sponsor of the program, will also offer a "doggie meal-deal" this week; each customer that purchases a bag of Purina dog food from the retailer will receive two Purina dog snacks free.

While Brasiola said it hasn't been determined yet whether or not the new dog will appear on H-E-Buddy packaging, the retailer is considering launching some books and coloring books in which Buddy and his dog will go on adventures.

"He'll be with Buddy in a lot of different ways," she told SN.

Based on the popularity of the election, the opportunity exists to include the new image on some of the retailer's store-brand pet foods, Brasiola said, adding that the chain's pet food buyer is actively involved with the promotion.

"Part of the reason the buyer was so excited is because it's going to add excitement to the pet aisle in our stores where we are competing so heavily against PetSmarts and [formats] like that."

The voting event was first announced on the scorecard that accompanies the H-E-Buddy Crane Game, in which kids use Buddy Bucks from H-E-Buddy product packaging to play an automated crane game. Stickers can be collected through the game, tracked on a scorecard, and redeemed for vendor-funded prizes like a can of Campbell's Spaghettio's or an H-E-Buddy beach towel.

The event is now being promoted through the retailer's print advertising vehicles, including its weekly circulars, Sunday drug store insert and monthly ad, Brasiola said.

"We've had a pretty good response online so far. We're over 3,000 votes in a couple weeks, and it's really only been advertised in the scorecard right now. We probably get 20 to 25 votes a day, but where we'll see that mass of votes is when we go in-store with it."