ATLANTA -- In a bid to improve pet aisle sales, Kroger Co.'s Atlanta division here initiated a weekly pet care supplement in conjunction with a local newspaper.
The piece contains editorial content accompanied by pet-oriented advertising. Among the topics featured are pet health, adoption, insects and zoos. There is a calendar of events, a question-and-answer column, animal crossword puzzles and pet comic strips, such as Marmaduke and Off the Leash.
The weekly supplement began running in March in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, which has an estimated circulation of 425,000.
One recent eight-page supplement included articles on protection against heart worms, an agility training course for dogs, conservation efforts at Zoo Atlanta, the grand opening of a new Petstuff store, pet allergies, a spider web in a reporter's backyard, greyhound trivia and a heartwarming story about Nilly, an intelligent hamster that got stuck in a furnace and emitted tiny screams until it was found.
The supplement contained a full-page ad touting Kroger's private label Tasty Blend dry cat food at $1.39 for a 3.5-pound bag and a half-page ad for a buy-one-get-one-free deal on Hartz cat litter. A full-page ad on the back of the supplement featured a kitten hanging onto a globe with the headline, "Shopping at Kroger makes a world of difference!"
A Kroger spokesman told SN that the supplement was designed as a joint effort between Kroger and the newspaper to build interest in pets.
"Pet food is our seventh-largest category, and it has gotten extremely competitive with the influx of competition -- the PetSmarts and the other chains," the spokesman said. "People feel about their pets like they do their
children. Only 33% of the people in our operating area have children under 18. There's a lot more that have pets."
Kroger also has been stepping up the merchandising of pet care products in the store. It is placing featured items on display, and has developed a Kroger Pet Center Save Tracks paw print symbol, which is placed in ads and on shelves in front of items that are on sale.
"The paw print means it is a featured item at Kroger. It is the best value for that week," the spokesman said, pointing out that the supplement has been a hit with pet owners.
"We certainly have gotten a lot of customer compliments," the spokesman said. "So they are paying attention, and we've got their eye. Editorial is always so important to the life of the section. The customers aren't interested just in advertising. They want to read some information and be educated."
The supplement is billed as an advertising section. Kroger was initially the supplement's sole advertiser, but since its inception the supplement has attracted advertising support from other sources, such as Rabble-Rousers Cat Club, Highland Pet Supply, Chris Ann's Raining Cats, Whiskers Paws, Pet Portraits, Petfolio, Invisible Fencing of Atlanta and specialty retailers PetSmart and Petstuff.
The supplement began running on a Wednesday, but has been moved to Thursday -- the food day in Atlanta. The paper is zoned by community in an effort to attract more local advertising from neighborhood pet shops, veterinarians, dog groomers and other pet-related businesses, according to Roy Sheppard, retail director of major accounts at the Atlanta Journal/Constitution.
"We have not had a lot of participation from the other supermarket chains, and we're working on that," Sheppard said. "We've had some occasional national ads, and we're looking for more consistency and broad participation from advertisers. From an editorial standpoint, the feedback I'm getting is very good."
He said he believes the Journal/ Constitution is the only newspaper in the country to have such a supplement.
"We are hoping that it will generate enough advertising support, from an economic standpoint, to support it. It is still experimental, and so far it is going well and is profitable at eight pages. We would like to build it to 12," he said.