Maple Leaf dog food line

Maple Leaf Foods is making a bid to become top dog in the pet food industry.This month, the company is rolling out Lifetime Dog Food under its Shur-Gain label.The new line of dry dog food comes in four specially formulated mixes...

Maple Leaf Foods is making a bid to become top dog in the pet food industry.

This month, the company is rolling out Lifetime Dog Food under its Shur-Gain label.

The new line of dry dog food comes in four specially formulated mixes including Puppy, Maintenance, Maintenance Plus and Performance, says Dave Hartney, manager of pet food programs at Shur-Gain.

Hartney says each of the four new Lifetime products are specially formulated, taking into account the nutritional needs of dogs at all levels of activity, including, growing dogs, show dogs and those involved in dog-sledding and other forms of racing.

Lifetime will replace three other Maple Leaf pet food brands – Excel, Opti-Plus and Debut.

The new line will be distributed through pet food outlets such as feed stores and through the specialty pet stores such as Pet-Value and Global Pet Food.

A small advertising campaign, developed by Barrow Communications in Guelph, Ont., will kick off in early January, beginning with advertising in Dogs in Canada magazine.

Hartney says the company will also promote Lifetime with in-store literature and promotions such as the ‘Paws Towel,’ which will be included in the eight-kilogram and 18-kg. bags of the product.

Pet cuisine has come a long way since Dr. W.R. Ballard, a veterinary surgeon, brought the first pre-packaged dog food to Canada back in 1926.

Pet food is sold on the basis of price, taste, and for its nutritional benefits, according to industry analysts.

‘The market is being fought on two different levels, price and nutrition – and it’s getting brutally competitive out there,’ says Shelley Martin, business director of Friskies PetCare, the pet-food division of Nestle Canada, which makes Dr. Ballard, among other pet food products.

Now, more and more pet food manufacturers are playing up the difference between pet owners and pet lovers.

And it is working.

Canine fans are as obsessed with the nutritional needs of their pets as they are with their own.

Vegetarian, kosher and hypo-allergenic pet foods are now finding their way into an increasingly competitive marketplace.

But the real growth in the pet food market during the last decade has been in the premium and super-premium end, according to industry analysts.

‘The mid-range market seems to be disappearing,’ Hartney says. ‘We think this is an excellent time to be launching a super-premium product like Lifetime.’

Maple Leaf says the Lifetime line is much higher in nutritional content and protein than less expensive dry dog foods.

Hartney says ingredients include poultry-meal, lamb-meal, poultry fat, ground brewers’ rice, ground corn, whole egg and ground wheat.

Sales of dry dog foods are also increasing at the fastest rate as new products continue to crowd their way onto both supermarket and specialty food stores shelves.

Hartney says Lifetime will be positioned as a super-premium line, but will be slightly less expensive.

Canadian sales of pet food are estimated to be about $750 million, according to the Pet Food Association of Canada.

Nearly 80% of the market belongs to four multinationals: Nestle Canada, maker of Dr. Ballard, Quaker Oats, maker of Puss ‘n Boots; Effem Foods, maker of Pedigree Pal and Kal Kan, and Ralston Purina, maker of Dog Chow and Puppy Chow and Dog Meal.

Maple Leaf, which makes only dry dog food and produces a number of supermarket private labels, is considered a niche player.

But Hartney says it is a niche the company plans to develop through sales in the specialty pet stores.

Martin says specialty food stores have seized a large portion of the market from supermarkets where the battle among pet-food companies has traditionally been waged.

A decade ago, 80% of all pet foods were sold in supermarkets. Specialty stores have now gained 40% of that market share, according to Nielsen Marketing Research statistics.

‘Specialty stores have really taken off because people are looking for more technical knowledge and service that only a specialized store can offer,’ Hartney says.

The move to larger-sized goods also explains, in part, the move to specialty stores, which have the space to stock bigger bags, he says.

Grocers, such as Loblaws, have been fighting back with new super-premium store brands such as President’s Choice Gourmet Italian Dog Food.

‘There’s no doubt about it – it’s getting really competitive out there,’ Hartney says. ‘But we’ve got a good product, and we think we can increase our sales with it.’