NEW YORK -- Heinz Pet Products has expanded its Homeless Pets Program to include cat foods, and is developing an extensive store level merchandising program at retailers including H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Wegmans and Kroger.
The Homeless Pets program centers around Homeless Homer, a cartoon mascot featured on all Heinz dog food brands, including Cycle, Gravy Train, Kibbles 'N Bits, Special Cuts, Gaines Burgers and Meaty Bones. Consumers buying the products save the Homeless Homer symbols and mail them to their local animal shelters. The shelters, in turn, collect symbols and send them to Heinz, which redeems them for cash. Labels are worth anywhere from 0.5 cents to 20 cents, depending on the item.
Heinz Pet Products is expanding its program to include Morris the cat and the 9-Lives and Pounce cat food brands. The program was previewed this month at a press conference at The Center for Animal Care and Control animal shelter here. Heinz Pet Products is operated by Star-Kist Foods, Newport, Ky., a subsidiary of Heinz U.S.A.
Mal Brett Schwartz, president of MBS, the Peekskill, N.Y.-based public relations agency that coordinates the Homeless Homer program, said Heinz is currently testing a program with San Antonio-based H-E-B. Under the program, consumers can drop their pet food labels at a display in the store rather than mail them to the shelters. Initial results have been "phenomenal," he said. Officials at H-E-B could not be reached for comment.
"This is starting to build tremendous momentum," Schwartz explained. " Also on the display are photographs of adoptable pets. We link up a local animal shelter with each store. The photos of adoptable pets have generated a 300% increase in pet adoptions at the animal shelters in San Antonio. So the local shelters are not only getting cash from the symbols, but help with adoption."
Based on the positive results of the H-E-B test, Schwartz said Heinz Pet Products plans to expand the program to other retailers, including Wegmans, King Soopers and Kroger's Atlanta division.
"Kroger Atlanta recently ran a pet food roto where they listed every shelter in the market and showed all of the symbols, and they have 50 to 60 adoption days [in store parking lots]," Schwartz said.
He said Heinz will be promoting the expansion of its program through events at 22 grocery chains this month. For example, King Kullen devoted a quarter of a page of its Long Island weekly circular to announce the program earlier this month. "During the month we're probably going to have over 700 local events in supermarkets nationwide where animal shelters like CACC will come to the store and have adoptable pets," he said.
Heinz also is promoting its program through public service announcements that began airing this month, David W. Rosenthal, general manager at Heinz Pet Products, told SN.
"Our PSA basically outlines the program and tells people how they can get involved. We've been successful with telethons," he said, adding a recent Houston telethon raised over $200,000 for the animals.
The Homeless Homer program was established in 1981 by the former Gaines Pet Food Co. Although the company has been through a string of different owners, the program has continually grown.