When you finish pouring the Hi-C for the kids, your job may not be done -- at least if Rosebrand Products has anything to say about it. Time to pour your dog his Juicee Treat, a new "soft drink" for canines intended to overcome doggie boredom.
This latest contender for the pet owner's dollar consists of a few simple ingredients: water, two B vitamins, corn sweetener, citric acid and red dye. Too bad color-blind canines can't appreciate its "beefy" red color. Then again, dogs can't read the accompanying pamphlet, "How Would You Like to Drink Nothing But Water All Your Life." And who knows whether the sheep dog on the bottle's label is a dog's ideal of beauty, but she certainly looks cute to the human consumer.
The Juicee Treat message is clearly aimed at the hand that feeds the hound. Your dog, after all, doesn't have to lug the 32-ounce glass bottle home in his market bag, or put up the 99 cents, the retailer's suggested price, to pay for this new pet drink.
"The only thing nutritious in there are the two B vitamins," says Dr. Peter Glassman, a veterinarian at the Friendship Animal Hospital in the District, who views the drink's content and claims with skepticism. "If you are feeding your dog with regular dog food, it very likely has been vitamin-fortified. If you leave water out, the dog will . . . drink as much water as he needs."
Carol Graham, president of Rosebrand Products, the New York-based manufacturer of Juicee Treat, emphasizes the drink's nutritional value, but says the product appeals to many customers because of "the interest that people have in their pets. They view them as surrogate children."
The Juicee Treat buyer is "the pet owner who wants to get his dog something special," says Graham's husband and Rosebrand board chairman Donald Jacobs. Graham and Jacobs maintain that if parents can buy special drinks for their children, why not enable doting pet owners to buy "something special" for their four-footed dependents?
The dog-juice duo may be barking up the wrong tree in Washington, however. While Hi-C, Kool-Aid and other people drinks continue to sell well in area supermarkets, local consumers are not lapping up the similar concept for their dogs.
"As far as we're concerned, it's discontinued," says Safeway public affairs manager Ernest Moore. "We don't sell even one container per store per week," in fact, the entire chain was selling less than a case per week. To move the remainding bottles of Juicee Treat from its shelves, Safeway has marked down its stock of the drink to 79 cents. As of early May, Safeway was the sole area retailer of the product; now Rosebrand is looking for other area outlets for its dog juice.
"It's a very frustrating situation, but one that can be rectified," said Jacobs, who was recently in town with his wife to boost interest in their product, which has been on the shelves since late November. "We plan to go into a very heavy educational campaign. The stores don't even know about it."
"They've been stocking it near the mineral waters," added Graham, describing a local Safeway's misconception of the product. Graham is quick to assure anyone interested in the product that water used in Juicee Treat is "terrific," but the product, she stresses, belongs on the pet food shelf with other pet products.
Getting Juicee Treat there has taken Graham's 20 years of Madison Avenue advertising experience and five years of hard labor and hard sell. Graham originally tried to sell her dog drink idea to pet food companies -- Carnation, Alpo, Ralston Purina -- but it was rejected because, she says, the product did not promise the volume of sales they sought. "So I said I'd do it myself," she declared.
"Originally I planned six-packs, but everything is in boxes and cans on the pet-food shelf," said Graham. Her designer convinced her to bottle the treat. "We're the only people in glass on the shelf," she proudly said.
"We planned something like Gatorade," said the veterinarian/animal nutritionist who concocted the mixture. "But we do not know enough about animals' nutritional losses," he said. So instead of creating a vitamin-packed health drink like Gatorade, he concocted a dog drink similar to Hi-C, adding to it two B vitamins which he said are present in most dry and canned dog foods found on the pet food shelf.
Finally, to determine just how well canines would take to the drink, Juicee Treat underwent palatability tests last August. According to Graham, the first panel of 45 dogs of "all shapes and sizes actually preferred Juicee Treat."
Preferred Juicee Treat to what?
"Those dogs selecting the flavor would actually wait until their bowls were refilled even though plain water was available to them," reported Dr. Thomas Willard, president of Resource Coordinators, the research firm that performed the tests. In subsequent tests of 30 more dogs, he said, they also preferred the drink rather than room-temperature water.
In the face of flagging sales in the area, what will become of the doggie drink?
According to Willard, the idea of developing a palatable liquid for dogs is an original and useful one, perhaps for administering medication or for other therapeutic purposes. He believes they have introduced a product that might inspire a take-off for more serious purposes in veterinary medicine.
Right now, Graham and Jacobs are determined not to let their efforts die. "When you're the tail end of the dog, like we are in this product line," said Jacobs, "you have to get out there and really work."