Heinen's Freezer Goes to The Dogs

Heinen's Fine Foods here has found a good home for its frozen dog food selection: the pet aisle. The location is the first place consumers go when shopping for their dog or cat, but for the past 25 years Heinen's frozen food section was the only area that could accommodate items comprising its frozen pet food offering: Bil-Jac Frozen Dog Food and Cool-Jac's Frozen Dog Treats.

WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Heinen's Fine Foods here has found a good home for its frozen dog food selection: the pet aisle.

The location is the first place consumers go when shopping for their dog or cat, but for the past 25 years Heinen's frozen food section was the only area that could accommodate items comprising its frozen pet food offering: Bil-Jac Frozen Dog Food and Cool-Jac's Frozen Dog Treats. Occupying just 2 feet of frozen shelf space and positioned amongst people food, the items were easily missed.

“Sometimes people didn't know we carried it due to its location,” grocery buyer Bill Meade told SN.

That changed when Bil-Jac, Medina, Ohio, provided a frozen food case prototype designed to fit a 4-foot section of shelving within the pet aisle. A patented attachment secures the freezer to the shelf. It gets power from a 110-volt outlet.

“It slides right into the shelf, kind of like a microwave oven,” noted Meade. “We just took it out of the box and plugged it in.”

The 17-store chain began testing the unit in the pet aisle of its Avon, Ohio, location last April.

For a few weeks prior to the move, a sign in the frozen food section explained that bags of Bil-Jac Frozen Dog Food and Cool-Jac's Frozen Dog Treats would be moved to the pet aisle, Jim Kelly, executive vice president of Bil-Jac, told SN. After the items were transferred, customers were directed to the new location. The position has helped drive sales.

“Since we've moved it in-line with pet, sales have increased,” said Meade.

In fact, in some cases, they've more than doubled. Sales of Bil-Jac Frozen Dog Food, 2-pound, are up 107% compared with before the move, while Cool-Jac's Frozen Dog Treats, 10-ounce, climbed 91% and Bil-Jac Frozen Dog Food, 5-pound, 74%. The items are the only frozen pet foods offered at Heinen's.

The chain plans to install the frozen cases in the remainder of its stores.

Other retailers are also testing the concept. Variations of the Bil-Jac freezer used by Heinen's have been piloted for the past year by an Acme Fresh Market in northern Ohio and an Ingles Markets store in North Carolina. Bil-Jac frozen dog food sales at those locations are up by as much as 100% vs. a year ago, noted Kelly.

H.E. Butt Grocery Co. and Roundy's Supermarkets will soon test the freezers, he added.

Others have expressed interest, but older store layouts may hamper their plans. Kelly explained that most new stores have electricity available in the pet aisle.

“We just have to make sure that we have the right gauge of extension cord and it's secured properly,” he said.

When an outlet is not available, installing one is easy when cables run through the ceiling rather than floor, he added. In most older stores, however, power is run through the floor.

Ingles Markets plans to install the freezers in its newer stores.

Bil-Jac provides the freezers — that only accommodate Bil-Jac frozen products — at no cost. The gesture often allows the manufacturer to bypass costly slotting fees.

“We're eating the cost of the freezer so that's an advantage” for retailers, said Kelly.

The freezers come at a time when sales of frozen dog food are up 12.5% in food, drug and mass outlets (excluding Wal-Mart) during the 52 weeks ending Jan. 24, according to Information Resources Inc.