Ralston treats pets to functional foods

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Ralston Purina Co. is extending the functional food trend popular among humankind to the animal kingdom.

New Purina Right Bites, a line of treats for dogs and cats, is rolling into retail outlets this month. Right Bites is Ralston's first foray into the health arena via pet treats; the company claims the products offer benefits for bones, teeth, immune systems and as a treatment for hairballs.

In the pet food category, Ralston already offers Purina Veterinary Diet for dogs and cats with special dietary needs such as diabetes or food allergies. But for its treat brands, among them Purina Beggin' Strips and Purina T Bonz, the company has focused until now primarily on fun rather than function. Following the rage that has driven sales of nutrition bars and functional beverages, Ralston figures, said a spokeswoman, that "pet owners giving treats because it's fun might as well be healthy about it.

"Many human consumers translate what they would do for themselves onto their pets, which causes trends [such as functional foods] on the human food side to eventually reach pet foods," she added.

Although other marketers offer health-promoting pet treats, such as Mars Inc.'s Pedigree Dent-a-Bone biscuits and H.J. Heinz Co.'s Pounce Tartar Control and Hairball Treatments, Purina is first with a full product line for cats and dogs.

FALLON CREATES ADS

Purina's added-value brand carries a higher price than typical treats. There are four canine varieties of Right Bites -- promoting overall health, a healthy immune system, strong bones and teeth, and healthy skin and coat -- all bearing a suggested retail price of $3.49. Three cat varieties -- for bones and teeth, overall health and healthy immune systems -- each carry price tags of $1.59. A fourth, hairball-eliminating variety, will retail for $1.59.

Ralston will support the new line with an extensive TV and print campaign in November from Fallon, Minneapolis, reaching out to pet owners, specifically treat users, who are attracted to a healthy lifestyle.

In-store materials already feature the tagline "Healthy just got together with treats." New ads, still in development, will likely support the same basic theme but will vary slightly from that tag, the spokeswoman said.

Ralston spent $94 million in measured media in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting. That included $8 million for Beggin' Strips Treats, $1.2 million for T Bonz and $1 million for Purina One Treats.

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