SAN DIEGO -- The nonfood pet care category is digging its claws even further into supermarket aisles, as evidenced by the various toys and flea remedies being shopped around at this year's General Merchandise Distributors Council GM Marketing Conference here earlier this month.
According to buyers and suppliers, the wealth of pet care vendors at the conference earlier this month was appropriate, given what they said was the category's growth potential in the grocery channel. In addition, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Show, which took place here shortly after the GMDC conference, also probably helped attract pet care suppliers.
"Manufacturers incorporate both shows, and pet care is a growing category," said Murray Appelbaum, president of nonfood wholesaler Selecto Products Co., Ardsley, N.Y. "Pet stores are starting to slow up, and pet manufacturers want to get into supermarkets."
General merchandise buyers like Richard Gunn, K-VA-T Food Stores, Abingdon, Va., have been working to beef up the pet care department by dividing the category according to specific domestic animals, cats or dogs.
"In order to compete with some pet supply stores that have cropped up and Wal-Mart's massive pet care selection, we needed to finish out the section with gadgets and specialty items like pet carriers, pet beds, chewable toys and scratching posts," Gunn said. He said all 86 stores completed a major overhaul of their pet section last month, adding eight additional feet of nonfood space each for their cat and dog sections.
"Our concept is to make a complete pet care center," he said, adding that the GMDC conference enabled him to obtain many new nonfood pet care contacts.
Hugh Ridgway, vice president of nonperishables, Eagle Food Centers, Rock Island, Ill., agreed that pet merchandise could be a growing category for grocers. "I think we're paying greater attention to the potential in the category," he said.
Although growth categories like pet care were a dominant presence among the 463 companies at the show, retailers were also interested in other products to fulfill their customers' needs.
Linda Schroeder, director of general merchandise for Felpausch Food Centers, Hastings, Mich., was interested in regional-specific items like mosquito coils. "There's a bumper crop of mosquitoes this year," she said. Other specialty products like calderos, cookware specifically geared toward Hispanic consumers, also caught Schroeder's eye.
"We're trying different things to cater to the ethnic population," she said. Michigan has a 15% Hispanic population, she pointed out.
Retailers also commended aspects of the show itself, especially the controlled casual conference (CCC) format, in which buyers sit at tables and vendors travel from table to table according to a pre-arranged schedule.
Joel Wilson, general merchandise coordinator for Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, said he was glad he elected to conduct 16-minute CCCs rather than the standard eight-minute meetings.
"There's a better exchange of ideas this year," he said. "Last year with eight minutes, four minutes were up after [supplier and product] introductions."
Ridgway of Eagle Food Centers added, "It was the first chance to meet with the decision-makers, and we were able to accomplish some significant priorities. [The conference] was well run and an excellent format to do business with, and there was an excellent variety of vendors to meet the needs of consumers."