MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. on July 9 recapped its fiscal 2019 successes and presented its fiscal 2020 strategies during its Investor Day event. As its pet segment – the Blue Buffalo brand – grows, General Mills hopes to drive the segment’s top and bottom line through an omnichannel presence, modern marketing initiatives and product innovation through the next fiscal year.
Although pet food remains the smallest product category for the company in terms of sales, with an 8% share of its total $16.9 billion in revenue for fiscal 2019, Blue Buffalo represents one of eight $1 billion brands managed by General Mills.
“Pet food is one of the largest food categories in the US with retail sales of roughly $30 billion,” said Billy Bishop, president and co-founder of Blue Buffalo, “and it has consistently grown at low-single digits in recent years. But when you look at the growth by segment, it gets more interesting.”
“Within pet food there are two primary segments: wholesome natural and mainstream,” Bishop continued. “As the trend of pet humanization continues and pet parents become more aware of what they're feeding their pets, it's causing a tremendous shift away from mainstream to wholesome natural, which has been leading the growth category over the past several years.”
Blue Buffalo, a wholesome natural brand from the beginning, was primarily sold in pet specialty when General Mills acquired it in April 2018. Between the company’s fourth quarter of 2018 and the fourth quarter of 2019, General Mills expanded the brand in the Food, Drug and Mass (FDM) channel and grew sales in that channel by 29%.
“In fact, in the last 12 weeks, Blue was the market share leader for total pet food in a number of FDM accounts and held double-digit market share in four large customers,” Bishop added.
Additionally, Bishop estimated more than 70% of its FDM consumers are new to the brand, which has resulted in an approximate 4% increase in household penetration since the brand entered the FDM space.
“We're focused on significantly expanding Blue's availability so that pet parents can get the Blue products they want anywhere they shop for pet food,” Bishop said.
General Mills isn’t deserting pet specialty, though, as it plans to reassure its dedication to the channel through product innovation and exclusive programs in fiscal 2020.
“In August, we're launching our new Carnivora product line in pet specialty,” Bishop said. “The super-premium offering maintains our True Blue Promise, made only with the finest natural ingredients, and features more proteins and select parts of the animal for a growing number of pet parents seeking optimal prey nutrition for their pet.”
Bishop also mentioned the company will expand pet specialty-exclusive formulas for cats and dogs in its Wilderness product line, such as its chicken-free Rocky Mountain Recipes.
The company teased the launch of Baby Blue, a program that will “leverage the unique aspects of the pet specialty channel” to create lifetime Blue Buffalo customers, Bishop said, adding that General Mills will share more details about the program later in 2019.
E-commerce was another driver for General Mills’ pet segment in fiscal 2019, representing approximately 25% of Blue Buffalo’s net sales. “And not only is Blue the #1 pet food brand sold online and the most searched pet food brand online, a recent study reported that Blue is the highest selling brand among all consumer packaged goods in the US,” Bishop added.
General Mills plans to bolster e-commerce growth in fiscal 2020 by driving availability, assortment and brand presence online, Bishop said.
“We'll also explore different pack sizes that may be more ideal for online purchasers,” he said.
Bishop said the company will continue to drive pet segment growth through 2020 by launching Blue Buffalo in club and drug channels, organizing national merchandising events, further expanding two of its hallmark formulas, Life Protection and Wilderness, proliferating its wet food and treat product offerings, and driving in-store visibility.
“It was a tremendous year of change and growth for our organization, and I couldn't be prouder of the way we took on every challenge, succeeded in the marketplace and advanced our mission,” Bishop concluded.
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