KROGER USES TV, WALKS TO UNLEASH PET FOOD VOLUME

CINCINNATI -- Several divisions of Kroger Co. here are using creative marketing campaigns designed to increase traffic in their pet-food aisles and win back sales from their competitors.Activities include the cosponsorship of telethons and walkathons to raise funds for local animal shelters and the publishing of a directory listing local veterinarians.Kroger's Dallas division cosponsored a "PETelethon"

CINCINNATI -- Several divisions of Kroger Co. here are using creative marketing campaigns designed to increase traffic in their pet-food aisles and win back sales from their competitors.

Activities include the cosponsorship of telethons and walkathons to raise funds for local animal shelters and the publishing of a directory listing local veterinarians.

Kroger's Dallas division cosponsored a "PETelethon" in conjunction with Heinz Pet Products and the local UPN Channel 21 television station. Similar efforts have also been undertaken with the Houston and Cincinnati/Dayton and Columbus, Ohio, divisions. PETelethons have also been cosponsored with Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., and Pet Supplies Plus in the Detroit area.

Officials at Kroger did not return phone calls seeking comment, but David Rosenthal, general manager of Cycle and Nutrition Products for Newport, Ky.-based Heinz Pet Products, said the Aug. 23 Dallas PETelethon raised about $160,000 during its four-hour air time, with all proceeds going to the local humane society.

"That is very respectable for a first-year event. The most difficult part is to get the telethon executed in the first year," Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said Kroger's Dallas division, in Keller, Texas, merchandised the PETelethon for four weeks prior to its air date.

"Country music star Janie Frickie donated her time to develop a public service announcement, which ran over the in-store radio network for at least three weeks prior to the event. There is a public relations program supporting the PETelethon, and as a result there was an article in the Dallas Morning News about the PETelethon and Kroger's involvement," Rosenthal said.

Kroger also had point-of-sale banners, bag stuffers and label-collection envelopes placed in the pet-food aisle for shoppers to donate proofs-of-purchase from Heinz pet products, which Heinz converts into cash for local animal shelters.

"Kroger did a very nice job of communicating its involvement," Rosenthal said, noting that such promotions stress Kroger's involvement with the immediate community.

The Kroger Atlanta division also raised funds for animals by teaming with Ralston Purina and other companies to cosponsor a Pet Parade Walk for Animals at Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park.

The seventh annual walk-a-thon, also held last month, raised approximately $50,000.

Darcy Levit, fund development coordinator at the Atlanta Humane Society, said Kroger sponsored a minifestival at its State Bridge Road unit that was complete with Looney Tunes characters sent over by Six Flags, the Humane Society's Polka Dot Pooch mascot, and a presentation by the U.S. Customs narcotics dogs.

"We promoted the Pet Parade. We gave out Purina O.N.E. samples for dogs, cats, puppies and kittens, fliers on the Pet Parade and coupons for Purina products," Levit said.

Samples and coupons were also distributed at 24 other Atlanta area Kroger stores.

As part of its sponsorship, Kroger also teamed with Ralston Purina and set up displays of Purina Dog and Cat Chow in its stores. A 22-pound bag of dog chow was featured for $6.99, while a 3.5-pound bag of Cat Chow was on sale for $2.99.

"We had our best Dog Chow month this year, and we sold 86% more than we do in an average month," said Nick Jolly, account executive at Ralston Purina's Atlanta regional office.

Jolly said displays of the Dog Chow and Cat Chow were up in the stores for about three weeks prior to the Pet Parade.

"What was different this year was that in addition to the in-store displays, we had commercials on KRGR -- Kroger's in-store radio station. The spot talked about the Humane Society event and directed shoppers to the pet aisle to take advantage of the Dog Chow and Cat Chow sales," he said.

Levit said the Humane Society is appreciative of Kroger's sponsorship of the Pet Parade since it allows all proceeds to directly benefit the Humane Society.

"Kroger not only provides sponsorship, but also fruit for the walkers and plastic bags for our goody bags. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kroger ran a half-page ad, and we had fliers at the customer-service desk in 100 area stores," she said.

Levit said about 500 walkers and their pets participated in the event. In addition to the standard dogs and cats, some more exotic species, including llamas, attended.

Kroger's Memphis and Nashville divisions are also sponsoring a brochure listing veterinarians. Customers visiting the veterinarians receive a book of pet-related coupons redeemable at Kroger stores.