SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Big Y Foods here is the latest supermarket chain to run veterinarian supported pet care events in an effort to go head to head with the category killer superstores.
The programs are designed to focus shopper attention on the chain's pet care department as well as responsible animal care.
Big Y, in an alliance with some 200 participating local veterinarians, offered the chain's Express Savings Club Card customers pet ID microchip implants for $20, which was half the regular cost of the procedure. The monthlong promotion ended last week.
According to Jan Winn, Big Y's director of health and beauty care and general merchandise, "The alliance between Big Y and family veterinarians is intended to educate about responsible pet ownership, including regular veterinary visits."
In other related pet events, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, and five Kroger Marketing Areas have each teamed with local veterinarian groups to lower the cost of rabies shots, microchip implants and clinics on neutering and heartworm disease.
"These events show the chains' interest goes beyond selling pet products. The message that's clearly sent is that they want your pet to receive good veterinarian care, which generates a tremendous amount of goodwill," said Dr. Larry Gerson, a veterinarian and spokesman for the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, Pittsburgh.
This spring Giant Eagle, in conjunction with the PVMA, launched its second round of rabies clinics held at selected store sites. Signs heralded the clinics in Giant Eagle's Pet Station pet aisle, at store entrances and in weekly food ads.
During the campaign about 1,000 cats and dogs received a rabies vaccination at a reduced fee of $6 from participating veterinarians, Gerson said.
Ads listed the participating greater Pittsburgh area veterinarians where pet owners could obtain the shots at the reduced fee. "The idea in these promotional events is to come to the supermarket to buy all your pet supplies," Gerson explained.
Last month Giant Eagle also ran an informational clinic on heartworm disease from tents set up in store parking lots. Animal health technicians from different veterinary clinics were there to field questions and distribute pamphlets to raise awareness about the disease.
In addition, Giant Eagle sponsored an animal poster contest for schoolchildren awarding $2,500 in cash prizes. Gerson said the PVMA also contributed $1,000 toward the contest. The chain also spread the word about permanent microchip implants for locating a lost animal. Pet owners could have an ID chip implanted at a reduced fee of $15 at a local veterinarian, which included a free registration. The regular cost is $37.50.
Giant Eagle promoted the program with store signs that stressed "if an implanted chip saves a pet's life just once, it's worth doing." Gerson alone performed several hundred procedures compared to 50 last year.
The retailer draws traffic into its pet centers with assorted shelf talkers in the section with special care tips for pet owners. Topics include warnings that antifreeze can be deadly to pets, and that neutering controls overpopulation and reduces prostate disease. Other tips range from the importance of always providing clean, fresh water to never exposing a bird to drafts.
"Supermarkets are trying to compete against the large pet superstores and this is what these events are all about," said Gerson.
Giant Eagle plans further informational clinics in stores to raise awareness about pet concerns. "It will encourage people to get their pets spayed or neutered. Another will be on adopting a pet from an animal shelter. To get new pet owners started, the participating veterinarians have agreed to waive their fee for the initial office examination," Gerson explained.
Giant Eagle had no comment on these efforts.
The Dallas KMA rolled out an eight-week long promotion in April for the microchip identification implants with a different twist.
Kroger customers could have the microchip implant done free using $1 checkout coupons issued at the register when customers purchased up to 20 selected products.
Fifteen of the coupons could be applied toward the $15 veterinarian fee for the implanting procedure, said Steve Shapira, senior vice president for marketing and strategic planning at Mars Advertising, Southfield, Mich., ad agency.
Kroger planned to expand its pet marketing activity to the Houston, Nashville, Tenn., Delta (Memphis) and Atlanta KMAs, said Shapira. Kroger officials in Dallas indicated that pet clinics held at store locations validate the importance of family pets. "Pets are such important family members. Bringing together local veterinarians and our customers we hope to make their pet ownership a longtime, happy and rewarding experience," said a Dallas KMA official.
Supermarkets and veterinarians have a common goal of trying to combat the pet store category killers, Shapira said.
"Kroger over the past year and a half has lost close to 40% of its pet food and accessory business to large pet superstores in some of their KMA's. Large pet stores with a full veterinarian clinic in the store and discounted medical services have taken a huge bite out of veterinarian practices," said the ad executive.
But running community-minded special events revolving around the family pet are value-added programs that make consumers feel supermarkets really care about them, stressed Shapira.
Besides the microchip implant program, Big Y also hosted its second Pet Extravaganza at six stores with a Paws Pet Center in May. Last year the event was held in June at three Big Y stores. Such events are good for targeting shopper attention at Big Y's expanded pet care centers, as well as animal welfare, said Big Y's general merchandise buyer Linda McAndrews.
The Pet Extravaganza, which was held outside in store parking lots and front walkways, drew upwards of 200 pet owners and customers, McAndrews said.
At each store six tables were set up with some pet items sold in the pet aisle, and other tables were staffed by representatives from animal shelters and an assistance dog program. One table was used to register for a contest for an aquarium and a Hartz Play City.
Big Y awarded $25 gift certificates for the dog dressed the most patriotic in the Mutt Parade, and to the winner in the Waggiest Tail contest. These prizes were sponsored by Friskies, and Mr. Christal's, a supplier of dog grooming products, McAndrews said. McAndrews said the store manager or customer-service manager picked the most patriotically adorned dog in the parade. The winning dog last year came dressed in a top hat and striped red, white and blue tuxedo depicting a 1940's era patriotic Uncle Sam poster.
During the promotion a 22-page booklet on pet care that contained $23 worth of cents-off coupons good toward pet supplies and pet food was also given away.
Big Y began its alliance with the vets in February with an information campaign on heartworm, followed by a rabies clinic held in April, said the retailer.