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    INDEPENDENTS REPORT: Grocers' best friend

    The Global Pet Expo last month dished out plenty of evidence that the pet product market is booming.

    When my older sister, Judy, phoned me from Florida last month to discuss what her three-year old pug, Winslow, would wear to the annual Pug Parade at a local Sarasota park, I thought, "This girl is crazy! She seriously thinks that dog is a person."

    Nonetheless, I listened patiently, and agreed that Winslow would look "darling" in a vintage sailor outfit (see the picture at right).

    The Pug Parade judges concurred. Sporting a nautical theme, Winslow once again took home top honors, and for the second year in a row his photo was featured on the front page of the local newspaper.

    My sister is not definitely alone. Millions of consumers across the country are contributing to the seemingly endless growth of our nation's pet industry, currently at $37 billion. Americans are projected to up their spending on pet supplies and services to over $43 billion by 2011, according to forecasts presented by Wellesley, Mass.-based BCC Research at the 2007 Global Pet Expo, which was held a few weeks ago at the sprawling Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla. Thus, there's no better time than now for independent supermarket operators to make like Winslow and company, and join the pet parade.

    In the United States today, pet ownership is at a record high of 69 million-plus households. Whether they're purchasing designer clothing and pet strollers, holistic cat food, Cat Genie's self-flushing/self-washing kitty "potties," canine campers, nutritionally enhanced waters, or Sergeant's Ooh la la, a designer line of trendy accessories for "small dogs with an attitude," animal lovers from Sarasota to Seattle are sparing no expense to enhance the lives of their pets. No longer can supermarkets allow the Pet-Smarts and other specialty retailers of the world to rain on their parade.

    Representing the PG editorial team, I attended the Global Pet Expo. With hundreds of exhibitors, a new-products showcase, and valuable education sessions, it is the pet industry's largest trade show -- and in my opinion a "must attend" for supermarket retailers.

    Among the many unique products that captured my attention were:

    Doggles

    I had to see it to believe it. "Protecting the world one dog at a time" is the mission of Diamond Springs, Calif.-based Doggles, LLC, which manufactures breathable mesh eyewear that filters out 50 percent to 60 percent of harmful UV rays and shields Fido's eyes from pesky insects. The patent-pending eyewear is available in assorted colors and sizes. Also setting tails wagging is the antifog, shatterproof, plastic Doggles eyewear model featuring adjustable head straps for a perfect fit. This item provides protection for pooches that enjoy popping their heads out of the car window.

    HappyTails Canine Spa Line

    From canine massage to animal aromatherapy, doggie day spas to "pawdicures," Los Angeles-based HappyTails offers canine spa products that take pet pampering to the next level, including upscale lines of shampoos and conditioners; Bow Wow Butter Balm for treatment of dry, cracked noses and paws; and Flea The Scene insect spray with sunscreen. And I mustn't forget to mention Dog Smog Remedy, a breath freshener that also relieves IGE, otherwise known in the pet world as "inappropriate gaseous emissions."

    3M Pet Care

    The health care market continues to skyrocket for pets as well as people. 3M recently introduced an innovative line of pet care products, including 3M Dental Treats, which promote healthy digestion and plaque buildup on teeth; Liquid Bandage for pets; Ear Cleaning Wipes enriched with vitamin E; luxurious shampoos available in tearless, deodorizing, and oatmeal formulas; and Skin and Paw Crack Care. For merchandising convenience, many of these and other 3M Pet Care products are available in clip strips, four-way floor tower displays, and wing displays.

    Pegetables -- Fun and Tasty Chew Treats

    Here's a doggie version of the Produce for Better Health Foundation's 5-A-Day message: Fortified with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, Pegetables, manufactured by Kansas City, Mo.-based Splintek, contain real vegetables: carrots, corn, and celery. Consumption of all three results in healthier immune systems, stabilized blood sugar levels, shiny fur, and decreased risk of urinary tract infections, according to the company, while Celery Pegetables are said to detoxify a pet's liver, too.

    CrunchCards by Crunchkins

    "Developed by vets—and devoured by pets," these individually wrapped 100 percent natural rawhide greeting cards with envelopes are manufactured using edible ink. Marketed by Rancho Mirage, Calif.-based Crunchkins, the edible cards provide a healthy treat and "improve the bond between a pet and their owners and friends," the company notes. Purr-fect Greeting Cat Nip Cards are available for felines.

    Hunter Pet Gear -- Licensed Sport Products for Pets

    Sparky's bark will sound extra- tough when he sports his favorite NFL team jersey on game day. Lexington, Ky.-based Hunter Manufacturing exclusively offers an extensive line of pet apparel and accessories: full-color team jerseys with V-necks to allow for a comfortable fit, collars, caps, toys, stainless steel pet bowls, and more. The Hunter product portfolio includes licensed professional sports and motorsports collections (i.e., NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, and Officially Licensed Collegiate Products). According to Stewart Justus, who handles national accounts at Hunter, the company's proprietary software, PlayZip, provides retailers with recommended assortments based on a store's ZIP code -- and an estimated 40 percent gross profit on sales.

    Our Pets

    Like many pet manufacturers, Fairport Harbor, Ohio-based Our Pets is addressing the needs of aging pets. Besides developing the world's largest selection of healthy feeding systems, including an elevated dog feeder system that reduces stress and damage to joints, the company offers an all-natural line of supplements designed for pets' changing nutritional needs and tastes.

    Independent Retailing Editor Jane Olszeski Tortola can be reached at [email protected].

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