Lassie comes home to grocers' shelves

January 30, 2014

5 Min Read
Lassie comes home to grocers' shelves


When a beloved canine icon barks her approval of a new line of premium dog food, grocers listen. And that's exactly what's happening with new Lassie(TM)-endorsed Natural Way(TM) dog food. Sporting a consumer-friendly, flexible pouch design, the all-natural dog food is set to give the supermarket channel a loyal ally in the battle for petfood sales.

Lassie is even teaching grocers a few new tricks for reaching dog lovers. Classic Media, owner and licensor of the Lassie property, and petfood processor Sunshine Mills collaborated to develop the premium line of natural dry dog food and treats with no animal byproducts and no artificial colors, preservatives or sweeteners. The team also knew that the packaging needed innovative convenience features and stand-out graphics for consumer appeal. For that, they turned to Alcan Packaging Food Americas (

With direction to create a high-end bag that emulated the look and feel of premium products at pet specialty outlets, Alcan Packaging designed a 3-ply polyethylene terephthalate, quad-seal pouch. A press-to-close zipper provides easy opening and resealability. The standup bag not only offers handling convenience, it gives retailers powerful shelf presence that commands consumers' attention.

"This is a high-end bag, far superior to what typically appears on grocers' shelves and perfect for premium pet food," says Richard Young, director of packaging for Sunshine Mills. "Much of the current offerings in supermarkets are multiwall paper. The rest of the world has forgotten about paper bags. From a market-demand standpoint, flexible plastic packaging delivers consumer convenience preferences and tremendous graphic appeal. Comparing plastic to paper petfood packaging is like comparing a Lexus to a Ford."

Glenn Pecoraro, vp of retail development for Classic Media, adds, "The Lassie Natural Way brand has given supermarkets what they need to compete: a high-quality product, packaging innovation, including the channel's first 20-lb, standup petfood pouch and the endorsement of Lassie, an enduring cultural touchpoint and trusted brand."

Supermarket petfood aisles could, indeed, use help from a "best friend." A recent study, "Pet Food in the U.S.," published in September 2006 by Packaged Facts, confirms that the supermarket channel continues to lose share of sales. With a 26-percent market share in 2005, supermarkets have lost ground, as mass merchandisers and pet specialty stores sink their teeth into this key growth market, with a 34-percent share and 25-percent share, respectively.

These statistics—and the scent of opportunity—weren't lost on Classic Media. Charged with finding licensing prospects that were not only favorable to the company, but also complemented the venerable Lassie brand image, the company realized dog food was a key category.

"Participating in the dog food market was essential," Pecoraro explains. "About eighty-five to ninety percent of all pet-market dollars is spent on consumable petfood, so it represents tremendous potential for our brand.

"We saw strategic advantage in marketing Lassie Natural Way premium dog food exclusively to supermarkets," he says. "The brand is affordably priced to compete with high-end pet specialty store brands. Its natural formulation and upscale positioning are what consumers are looking for."

Tremendous interest from retailers meant everyone on the team had to act fast to deliver product. In particular, a key retailer had scheduled a pet food category review and planned to reset its stores in 12 weeks, whether Lassie Natural Way was ready or not. Alcan Packaging took the lead to ensure deadlines were met.

Alcan Packaging held a meeting of all supply-chain partners, including bag converter TechniPac Inc. ( They created a production schedule and got all parties to agree to key dates.

"We frankly never expected to hit these deadlines," admits Young, referring to the three-month time horizon. "We had never produced dry dog food in a flexible, resealable, standup pouch. We had partnered with Alcan before on a number of products, but this was totally unique. I believe it would have taken our competition a year and a half to complete this product line."

Alcan Packaging started the process by conducting an analysis of bag structures to determine the best packaging solution for the market. Raw materials were specified and procured. Approved packaging graphics and die lines had to be secured. Sunshine Mills then ran sample bags online to test structure performance. By deadline, Alcan Packaging fabricated and delivered 100,000 units per SKU—or 1.2 million bags—in 90 days.

Mike Schmitt, president of Alcan Packaging Food Americas, admits that turnaround on the project was extraordinary, but claims that's part of doing business in a competitive marketplace. "Manufacturers are looking for supply chain solutions," he says. "They need partners that are flexible, dynamic and resourceful enough to make time itself part of the value proposition."

Making it to retailers' shelves on time wasn't the only benefit Lassie Natural Way packaging yielded. Operational performance was also a critical factor in developing the pouch structure. At the outset of the project, Sunshine Mills presented Alcan Packaging with a competitive bag as a benchmark. After analysis, the company recommended an alternative designed to improve appearance and performance.

"On the original, competitive bag, the coefficient of friction (COF) was applied as a coating. This gave the bag a 'dirty' feel and poor graphic quality from streaking," explains Schmitt. "Our solution was to use a film with optimal COF properties, to deliver the desired tackiness that improves productivity and graphic impact that makes for appealing consumer packaging."

The final 3-ply, quad-seal structure incorporates a controlled, high-COF PET outer layer, a metallized PET inner layer for barrier properties and a proprietary sealant film.

"Alcan took our bag requirements and improved on them," states Young. "The Lassie bags give us outstanding graphics, they palletize fantastically and they run better on our equipment."

"Great packaging came together with great product and a great brand," confirms Pecoraro. "The initial success of Lassie Natural Way has been good. We've gotten a lot of good feedback that retailers are happy with the line."

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