Nonfoods Talk: Staying loyal

Grocers that continue to dedicate space to the pet category are bound to reap the rewards.  

Leave it to the American Heart Association to give the pet category a lift, perhaps at the very right time.

Seth MendelsonThe AHA released a “scientific statement” in May claiming that owning a dog or a cat may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It stated that owning these types of pets was associated with beneficial cardiovascular effects, including increased physical activity, favorable lipid profiles, lower blood pressure and diminished sympathetic responses to stress. Owning a pet also improves autonomic tone and leads to improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome.

Sounds good.

In fact, this should be a shot in the arm for the suddenly struggling retail pet industry. Lord knows it needs it.

After nearly three decades of sustained—if not impressive—growth, the pet category is in the midst of a slowdown in sales due to a number of factors, most importantly the nagging recession that has many consumers thinking about themselves and their human family first and delaying the acquisition of a new pet until things get better. Constantly changing demographics and a huge uptick in competition from big box retailers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond is not helping the category much either.

This reversal of fortune has shocked many in the industry, who viewed pet as one of the two recession-resistant categories along with baby food/care.

Yet pet remains a major player among mass retailers seeking to attract more consumers. Walmart has made it clear that it sees pet as an anchor department and has done wonders with its section over the last few years. Target has also made a significant move with its pet department, offering a wide range of products across a number of key segments.

Supermarkets, meanwhile, have trailed behind—and it is starting to show. As sales growth has slowed, many have decreased their pet supplies allocation and assortment. Others have moved the pet department to a less desirable location, giving the space to other sections that may have nothing to do with nonfoods.

Suppliers have noticed too. A number have mentioned that they are putting more resources behind getting their products into mass merchandisers than grocery stores because of a higher rate of acceptance. Some go far as to say that the three major drug chains also appear more willing, at times, to expand their pet sections than food stores.

The bottom line is that the pet category will eventually rebound—my guess sooner rather than later—and retailers that are positioned for this rebound will fare much better than those that appear to have given up on the category.

Sad news from Arizona: Norm Loringer, a longtime executive with Colgate-Palmolive, passed away in late April at the age of 69. Norm stood out in a crowd for many reasons—his passion for the industry and his company were at the top of the list.

Norm was also someone who was helpful to me, providing great guidance on oral care stories as well as other segments of the HBC industry. He was always willing to discuss the state of the overall grocery industry. He was never shy to discuss the issues with me, even pointing out information that he thought was not correct or did not show the other side of the subject matter in whatever magazine I was affiliated with.

One of the last times I saw Norm was in John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif. about 10 years ago. He was rushing off to some appointment somewhere, but he took the time to stop and talk with me about my family, job and the supermarket industry. Norm retired to Arizona soon after. I can only hope that he enjoyed those last years of his life.

He was one of the good guys and will be missed.

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