Many retailers might be tempted to use a rolled-up newspaper to keep the pet food supermarkets at bay, but newspaper advertisements are a more practical alternative for some.
For the most part, the pet food category killers use spacious locations; an enormous selection of products and supplies; services like grooming, and word-of-mouth to draw in shoppers. A few limit advertising to new-store openings and supplies.
Many supermarket retailers, on the other hand, said they advertise a dog food item every week. Other retailers said they use a more infrequent approach, such as only stepping up their advertising during hunting season.
The tactics appear to vary according to geographic locations, with rural retailers tending to target owners' hunting dogs heavily, while urban retailers target cosmopolitan canines with promotion of gourmet foods and treats.
"Every week we have a cat and/or dog food promoted with reduced retails and shelf tags, but there is not really that much that we can do with pet food in terms of promotion," said John Corcoran, category manager at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Dick Salmon, senior vice president at Melmarkets Foodtown, Garden City, N.Y., said his chain also features dog and cat food weekly.
Richard Copeland, senior grocery buyer at Rainbow Foods, Hopkins, Minn., said Rainbow uses a combination of deals and advertising to promote its dog food. For example, Rainbow recently had Purina Dog Chow on sale at $6.99 for a 25-pound bag, about $3 less than its usual price.
"We had a good buy on it, and it attracts people for a while. We may go a couple of weeks and not see any pet foods, and then we might have a few. It really is a mix of what deals are out there and what is advertisable. "There are a lot of things that are on deal that aren't really advertised, and are always four for $1. But the deals like the Purina dog food are what drives the ads," he said.
Peter Jost, head buyer at Harp's Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., said his chain sometimes centers promotions around hunting season to push sales.
"Dog food is not a category that we promote too often. We will advertise it around hunting season in the fall. We have a lot of hunting dogs in our area, and they don't eat the fancy pedigree stuff in this economic climate," he said.
Terry Ryan, category manager at Food Barn Stores, Kansas City, Mo., said he has noticed weekly newspaper ads in his market from pet food supermarkets.
"The chains near us do dog grooming, and we're not about to get into that," Ryan said.
He said Food Barn, instead, has been fine-tuning its department to shore up sales.
"Our margins are already very low, and it has been a very sensitive category for a number of years. We are advertising it when there is a promotion available. There are higher margins on the treats, and we're carrying just about everything that is available, but we are staying away from the club packs," he said.