If an owner takes a dog into the store to buy dog food it’s a good bet that few dogs would salivate at the sight of the Beneful bag from Ralston Purina. Although there are a couple of meaty chunks shown most of the illustrations on the bag are vegetables such as corn carrots and peas together with stalks of wheat. However the photo vignettes are so vivid they’re likely to catch the dog owner’s eye.
That’s the theory behind the graphic design for the St. Louis-based company’s bag. “The Purina people recognize that while canines might not find carrots and corn very appetite appealing their owners should instantly understand that this product is formulated for owners who want to ensure a healthy diet for their dogs” said Bill Kumke director of package design CheckMark Communications Purina’s in-house design group.
Beneful which was introduced in June comes in four sizes ranging from 4-lb bags to 35.2-lb. Most are pinch-bottom multiwall paper bags supplied by Smurfit-Stone Container (Chicago IL) from its plants in Kansas City MO and Louisville KY.
The smaller sizes use two paper plies (41# outer and 50# inner) that are separated by a barrier film web. The outer paper layer is clay-coated and treated with a grease-resistant compound says Tim Wilhoit general manager for Smurfit’s Louisville plant.
Along with the bright white clay-coated print surface Beneful’s product characteristics necessitated some changes in the typical multiwall paper bag structure. “For this particular formula our packaging research and development department did extensive testing” pointed out Mike Day packaging deployment manager. “That’s because we have both hard and soft dry and moist pieces in the product.”
To improve the oxygen barrier the converter recommended a 2.2-mil layer of vitamin-E-modified high-density and linear low-density polyethylene film from Pliant Corp. (Schaumburg IL). It replaces a thinner substrate used in most bags for dry dog foods. The addition of vitamin E provides extra protection against oxidation of the fat in the meaty particles while HDPE provides a good moisture barrier for the dry pieces.
Nutrition is key
Nonetheless Kerry Lyman director of marketing public relations for CheckMark isn’t convinced that dogs won’t find vegetables appealing. “Dogs after all are not just carnivores they’re omnivores” she said. Even so she admits that the beautiful images on the bag are specifically designed to appeal more to the dog’s owners.
“We know a lot of consumers are looking for the total package in a pet food” she adds. “So it not only has to have the meat that dogs crave for its taste and texture it must also be rich in vitamins grains and other ingredients that make up a balanced meal.”
In all the product consists of a mix of seven different sizes and shapes from the moist square chunks to circular pieces that contain vegetables with vitamin A and other vitamins. According to Day Purina had to develop a special blending process to ensure that the contents of each bag match the nutrition profile identified in print on the bag.
“Filling [which is done at several locations] was a challenge to our operations group” Day said “because each bag needs to have the correct amount of each piece and we need to have the contents consistent from each plant across the country.” Day declined to be more specific about filling except to indicate that the blending of the product is more unusual than the filling equipment. Plants regularly test for the correct mix color and moisture content filled into each bag.
Bright clean design
“With the Beneful graphics” said Lyman “we’re trying to get the dog owners salivating in the store aisle.” It’s accomplished by eight-color gravure printing with an ultraviolet-cured varnish printed by Smurfit-Stone.
“Our artwork uses a shadow color a light purple/gray so we wouldn’t have to make the shadows up out of the four process colors” Kumke explains. “That was the best way to control the intensity of the shadow. To get the kind of detail we wanted in the photo vignettes we knew that could best be accomplished by gravure printing.”
Kumke acknowledges that the bright white background is an unusual treatment in dog food packaging which normally is saturated with colors and photo images. “We wanted to instantly communicate the ingredients we put in the product through the powerful photos on the package” he says. “The bright white background really helps set them off. In addition white is a color representative of good health. So we feel the design presents a clean white healthy-looking package.”
Lyman explained that Beneful is truly a different formula from most dog foods. “It’s quite different not only from other Purina products but also from other dog foods. It’s really for consumers who want to indulge their dogs with a balance of nutrition and taste.” Purina research indicates that some dog owners are concerned that their regular dog food didn’t deliver the nutrition their pets need; others have bought nutritional foods that their dogs didn’t like.
If the packaging is designed to communicate nutrition and health to dog owners Purina knew the product also had to deliver on its promise of taste appeal to the canines. The product was extensively tested at Purina’s Pet Care Center which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
“We have our own canine ‘employees’ out there about 500 dogs of a variety of breeds” Lyman explained. “So not only do we have the laboratories to ensure the nutritional profile but our Pet Center dogs form a taste panel to make sure the sizes textures and the flavors are appealing.”
Lyman also reported an anecdote that verified the taste appeal. Before the product was introduced to the market samples were given to employees to take home for their dogs. “We had several reports from employees that their dogs wouldn’t eat their regular dog food after the sample was consumed” she said. “So we actually had to have our plants ship extra product into our company store so these employees could supply it to their dogs.”
Purina has done extensive promotion surrounding the introduction of Beneful including e-mail and direct-mail campaigns as well as special store displays. “Since the brand was introduced in June our customers and retailers have been very excited about it because it’s new and the package creates such a great presence on the shelf” Lyman reports. “The marketplace reaction has been tremendous and we’ve been extremely pleased with the orders” she noted from New York’s Central Park where she was helping stage a Beneful Smart Spa for dogs. New York is one of the 13 cities targeted.