Redubbed Cesar Select Dinners, the pet food is being advertised as a superpremium product aimed specifically at small dogs. Print advertising from BBDO West, Los Angeles, shows a tiny pooch trying to yank his master out of bed by the pajama bottoms, with the tagline: "What do you feed the head of the household? Only the best."
BBDO also handles Mars' Sheba cat food brand, which is packaged almost identically to Cesar in small oval tins.
"What Mars has done with Sheba has been very successful," said Tim Phillips, editor of Petfood Industry. "It's a very high-price, gourmet cat food" that fits in with the trend of "treating pets as if they were your child."
Indeed, in addition to the crop of indulgent pet foods that resemble human brands, recent new products in the category have gone from nutritious to nutraceutical. Heinz Pet Products' new Nature's Recipe Group Specific Formula, for example, isn't only targeted specially to specific dog breeds but contains such ingredients as ginseng and hawthorn berries, two popular New Age herbs.
MARS PLAYING CATCH-UP
Bringing the Cesar name to the U.S. is important for Mars not just as the industry goes more global but also as the marketer tries to play catch-up after missing out on the 1990s' consolidation boom in the pet food industry. Nestle's acquisition of Alpo and Heinz's purchase of Quaker Oats Co.'s pet food lines have made both more formidable competitors.
Although Mars' Kal-Kan brand leads canned dog foods, it's in a segment that's flat to declining, according to Information Resources Inc. The $877.2 million canned segment saw sales drop less than 1% in food, drug and mass merchandisers for the 52 weeks ended April 26, while dry dog food jumped 8.4% to $2.38 billion. The figures exclude sales in pet food superstores.
Kal-Kan's sales of $340.8 million in canned dog food was about flat for the time frame, giving the marketer 38.9% of the segment. Nestle is No. 2 with $262.4 million, up 2.9% for a 29.9% share. Heinz is third with $152.9 million, down 11.8%, and a share of 17.4%.
Cesar's predecessor brand, Pedigree Select, was the seventh-largest brand for the 52 weeks ended April 26, IRI reported, with sales of $43 million, up 3%.
Observers, however, wonder how many breed-specific or size-specific brands the market can support.
"There are a lot of introductions," Mr. Phillips said. "Maybe too many. Especially in grocery stores, there's only so many you can stock. Even in pet food superstores, there's a limit."