Why the Wild Calling Acquisition is a Big Deal



Last week, Barkstrong added another brand to its growing pet food lineup with the acquisition of Wild Calling. While this deal isn't generating quite the same kind of buzz as General Mills’ acquisition of Blue Buffalo back in February, it could prove to be one of the biggest developments in pet industry so far this year.


Barkstrong has quietly assembled a small stable of brands—including Great Life Petfood and Pioneer Naturals—that have proven to be winners for a number of independent pet retailers but have yet to achieve broad, national distribution. Now the company, which just entered the pet industry in January, stands poised to realize the full potential of these indy-focused brands at a time when independent retailers are looking for lines that will continue to differentiate them from the big-box pet chains and mass/grocery stores.


According to industry experts, Wild Calling will be a key piece in Barkstrong’s endeavor to build a new pet food powerhouse. Known for its unique approach to pet nutrition—which is largely based on the use of novel proteins like kangaroo, bison and rabbit—the brand was a favorite of some small independents and even regional chains since it was founded in 2012, but ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October.


 “Wild Calling had a huge customer base but fell on hard times,” says vice president of sales Greg Eastwood, one member of the team of pet industry veterans that Barkstrong has assembled to usher in a new era for the food brands it has acquired. “Now we’re re-launching it along with the Great Life and Pioneer lines.”


Another key part of Barkstrong’s plans is its retail strategy, which Eastwood says will remain focused on the independent pet specialty channel, with its ecommerce presence tightly controlled by a strong MAP policy. “The mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar stores are the retailers who, once they get a food that works, really support those brands,” says Eastwood. “That’s where we want to be.”


It is still relatively early in the relaunch process, but Barkstrong has already secured an expanded distribution network to get its food brands onto more pet store shelves. In addition, the company plans to expand the product lineup offered under those brands, and possibly even add more brands via acquisition if the opportunity arises.


While the company will not be exhibiting at SuperZoo later this month, it is planning to make a big splash at next year’s Global Pet Expo in March. Depending on how the rest of the year and beyond plays out, that splash could very well turn into a wave that independent pet stores could ride to success for years to come.


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