What Retailers Should Learn from Blue Buffalo’s Move Into Grocery and Mass


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Last week, Blue Buffalo became the latest channel-hopping pet food brand with the announcement that it would start selling “a subset” of its BLUE Life Protection Formula (LPF) line in mass and grocery stores like Target, Kroger, Meijer and Publix. And while the company is casting this as a fairly innocuous move—after all, the company’s Wilderness, Basics, Freedom and Earth’s Essentials line will remain exclusive to the pet specialty channel, at least for now—there are signs that this could very well be a game changer for independent pet stores. 

Interestingly, none of the retailers I’ve spoken with since the announcement were particularly surprised by move. Some even speculate that the expansion into grocery and mass was necessitated by erosion in Blue Buffalo’s market share in the pet specialty channel as several big chains have been lowering their emphasis on the brand in their stores. Now, were those chains deemphasizing the brand because they were expecting this jump into grocery and mass? I don’t know, but it might be a question worth pondering. 

Now that the move has been made, though, there is no question that some independent retailers will be decreasing their focus on Blue Buffalo as well. One successful retailer even went as far to predict that this could be “the beginning of the end” for the brand in independent pet stores.

Obviously, only time will tell what the ultimate impact is on Blue Buffalo’s relationship with independent retailers. However, I think the company’s expansion into the grocery and mass channel touches on an issue that is much bigger than any one brand. It is becoming harder than ever to figure out which companies and brands will remain committed to the pet specialty channel, particularly the indies.

In the letter that Dino Mele, the company’s senior vice president of North America sales, sent to retailers to announce the move, he described it as “the natural evolution of our go-to-market strategy.” And therein lies the rub… go-to-market strategies do evolve. In fact, they seem to be evolving at a faster rate than ever—especially when manufacturers go through changes in ownership or have to answer to investors that demand a high rate of growth.

That means just about any of today’s independent-only or even pet specialty-only brands could be tomorrow’s rising star in grocery and mass. In fact, I’ve heard rumors that an announcement similar to Blue Buffalo’s could be made by another prominent pet food company quite soon. 

Stay tuned.

 

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