Category spending still stagnant

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The Meow Mix Co. is up against some much bigger players. But despite a flurry of acquisitions in the pet-food category over the last few years that has shifted ownership of top cat-food brands to global behemoths such as Nestle and Procter & Gamble Co., media spending has not grown for any except the Iams brand.

When P&G acquired the premium Iams Co. back in 1999 for $2.05 billion, it quickly put major muscle behind the growing brand, upping spending on cat food from $4 million in 1999 to $21.5 million in 2000, levels that have fallen off slightly to $17 million this year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Sales of the brand in the segment have grown along with the spending, with Iams now the leading brand in the category with sales up 5.3% to $147.5 million for the 52 weeks ended April 20, according to Information Resources Inc.

Meanwhile, since Nestle's $10.3 billion acquisition of Ralston-Purina in January of 2001 and the creation of a Nestle Purina PetCare division, media spending for dry cat-food brands Purina Cat Chow, Friskies and Purina O.N.E. has dropped precipitously-from $39.3 million in 2001 to $29.9 million last year. Although Nestle still leads the category, its sales are down 2.4% to $494 million for the April 20 time period. Nestle will up the ante and hopes to spark sales of the declining Friskies franchise with a repositioning of the brand this summer backed by a large-scale TV and print campaign from Avrett Free & Ginsberg, New York.

Masterfoods USA has likewise decreased its media expenditures on cat-food brand Whiskas, down from $23 million in 2000 to $14 million last year.

Del Monte Foods Co., which purchased 9-Lives from H.J. Heinz Co. last December, has pledged to put major media behind it. Heinz spent nothing on the brand in 2002 and only about $2 million the previous two years . "We're committed to building product quality and innovation and backing it up with marketing," said Barry Shepard, VP-marketing for Del Monte Pet Food. Doner, Detroit, is developing the work.

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