When asked how his decade-old petfood company, Chicken Soup for the Soul Pet Food, has changed over the past several years, CEO Chris Mitchell points to the very recent past as a starting point for growth, rebranding and a new strategy.
“The biggest change happened about a year ago when we brought the sales and marketing, promotion, product development and customer service areas of our petfood business in-house, in part to better integrate the pet business with the parent company and to ensure that we continue to meet our high quality standards,” he explains. “This allows our petfood business to benefit from the press, marketing and social media attention that the parent brand garners on a regular basis with over 3 billion media impressions and over a million Facebook fans. Bringing these areas in-house is a big change that we feel will benefit both consumers and our distribution and retail partners.”
Over the last several months, Chicken Soup has completely redesigned their packaging, bringing it more in line with current industry standards as well as the look and feel of their bestselling book series of the same name. “We (now) feature rescued shelter animals with their story and a Chicken Soup for the Soul story on every product,” Mitchell says. And it’s not just the outside of the dog and cat food bags that’s different. “We increased the protein in most of our formulas and replaced some of the millet with peas," he says. "We also added a new product with our Adult Dog Small Bites formula, which has been well received."
The key to all of this growth? Closing the significant gap between the number of people who know and trust the Chicken Soup brand and the number of those people who know the same company has a superpremium petfood line. “We are reaching out directly to consumers and driving them to their local independent pet specialty stores to find our products,” explains Mitchell. “Another key is to significantly expand the number of stores in the independent pet specialty channel that carry our food and increase our shelf space in the nearly 5,000 stores that already carry our food.”
Chicken Soup recently hired a sales management team and developed new point-of-sale materials. “The trends we see most are the continued movement towards natural and superpremium foods and treats for pets—a trend we happily are already part of and have been since our petfood was launched over ten years ago," says Mitchell. "We have a lot of opportunity to expand our products in this area. We also plan to expand our product line from 33 SKU’s of dog and cat dry food and wet food to include new food items and treats.”
As a media company, Chicken Soup has the ability to communicate with consumers in a completely different way than a traditional petfood company, something not lost on Mitchell and his team, which includes Luc Mongeau, the former president of Mars Petcare North America. “We are able to maximize our reach through the millions of books we sell each year, highlighting our petfood in the back of each new pet book," says Mitchell. "We are able to get national media coverage, as evidenced by our recent segment on Entertainment Tonight about our book signing party for our two new pet books with our special host, Anthony Anderson."
Their non-traditional approach of petfood brand meets marketing powerhouse also allows them to donate to pets in a completely different way. “For example,” explains Mitchell, “we are supporting the American Humane Association as a category sponsor for the official petfood of their upcoming, nationally televised 2014 Hero Dog Award show. We are also supporting them in a more unique way by partnering with the celebrity who wrote the forewords for two of our recent books, and she is donating her royalties from the books to the American Humane Association.”
At the end of the day, the Chicken Soup petfood brand is already telling an interesting story because the pet parents buying their brand have been sharing their companion animal memories for years with the company. “We receive thousands of stories every year about the unique relationship between pets and people, which has taught us that food is more than just nutrition—it is also about comfort, love and appreciation,” Mitchell says. “With that understanding, we strive to provide wholesome petfood and treats that enhance that relationship. We want to be known for creating products that provide a way for people to connect with their pets and create new stories that then inspire others to do the same.”