Purina counts on fitness frenzy going to the dogs

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Nestle Purina petcare is banking on a nutrition push to turn around sales for its largest pet-food brand, Purina Dog Chow.

Hoping to capitalize on consumers' current focus on their own health and wellness, nutrition is at the fore of new-product activity and messages from pet-food marketers including Nestle, Masterfoods and Procter & Gamble Co. Nutrition in the category has been redefined in recent years by super-premium entries including P&G's Iams and Nestle's own Purina O.N.E. and its newer Purina Beneful. The languishing 75-year-old premium Dog Chow brand will be relaunched to reflect the shift.

An integrated campaign beginning this month will reposition Dog Chow and Puppy Chow as a "powerful nutrition" formula that is said to "build" the digestive system, "replenish" vital organs including a healthy heart and "repair" muscle cells. The push includes TV, print, Internet and a retail sampling program unprecedented for the category.

"As consumers get more and more health-conscious for their own sake, they translate that to their dogs," said Susan Schlueter, brand manager for the Chow brand at the Nestle unit. Because of that trend and the resultant shift in the category, "we need to reestablish our nutritional credentials in the mind of consumers."

balancing act

Tim Ramey, a D.A. Davidson & Co. analyst, said Nestle's challenge is to "figure out a way to add value and position the [Chow] brand as more premium without taking it out of mainstream grocery stores." As people in recent years have focused more on pampering their pets, sales of super-premium pet foods in nontraditional channels has grown, he said.

In fact, the decline of the well-established Chow business is in part due to the choices Nestle itself made to support the launch of Beneful and Purina O.N.E. to combat the growth of Iams, Ms. Schlueter said. "As you refocus on some areas, others become challenging," she said.

According to Information Resources Inc., volume sales for the Chow line dropped 4.5% for the year ended April 18. Nestle has supported the line, with TNS Media Intelligence/CMR reporting it spent $22.8 million in media on Dog Chow and Puppy Chow in 2003, but the initiative will inundate consumers with the message that Chow is "nonstop nutrition that helps your dog thrive."

In January 2003, Masterfoods U.S.A. relaunched its premium dog food line Pedigree to focus on better nutrition, and earlier this year launched an extension, Pedigree 2-Step weight program, designed to help dogs lose weight and keep it off. Ads from new Pedigree Omnicom Group agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., kicked off in February.

sampling effort

TV for the Chow platform, from Publicis Groupe's Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis, features scenes of active dogs with a voice-over that reads, "Healthy, vibrant, full of life ... introducing new Purina Dog Chow-a new way to think about nutrition" and asserts the three-pronged build, replenish and repair platform that also appears on packaging.

Because of the difficulty of changing people's perception of a brand with so much heritage, Ms. Schlueter said Nestle is pushing hard on sampling. The efforts include first-ever "live" sampling events at critical retailer Wal-Mart Stores, where consumers receive a 1.1 pound bag along with a brochure that explains the new proposition. Similar demos are being staged at Sam's Clubs and, for mainstream stores, consumers can get their samples from in-store displays by bringing in a coupon from a newspaper insert. Dog Chow is also the sponsor of the Humane Society's care kits, where samples are included.

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