The Phenomenon of Ol’ Roy Dog Food: How a Walmart Exclusive Took Over the Market

Ol' Roy Dog Food recall information

For years, Ol’ Roy has reigned supreme in the dog food industry in the United States. It didn’t just surpass its competitors; it outsold them by an astonishing 20%.

The Untold Story of Ol’ Roy

Ol’ Roy got its name from Sam Walton’s beloved bird dog. You may recognize Walton as the founder of Walmart, the leading retail giant.

Contrary to popular belief, there was not just one Ol’ Roy. According to one of Walton’s hunting buddies, there were multiple dogs with the same name. Whenever one Ol’ Roy passed away, another Ol’ Roy would take its place. These dogs were loved, but not more spoiled than Sam himself, as noted by billionaire businessman Drayton McLane in a 2011 interview with the Dallas Morning News.

In 1981, Ol’ Roy made its debut in Walmart stores. Many Ol’ Roy customers may not be aware that it is a private label brand exclusively available at Walmart. Sam Walton saw an opportunity to create a dog food that matched the quality of other brands but at a lower price point. There was no need for an extravagant marketing budget or flashy advertisements; the product spoke for itself. Ol’ Roy quickly skyrocketed in popularity, surpassing Purina to become the number one dog food brand in the United States.

Ol’ Roy and Walmart: Partners in Success

The triumph of Ol’ Roy was closely linked to the rapid growth of Walmart. The increasing trust in store brands and generics also played a significant role in Ol’ Roy’s dominance. Shoppers have grown accustomed to the quality and value that store brands offer, often unaware that they are purchasing private label products.

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Sam Walton with bird dog

Manufacturing: From Then to Now

When Doane Pet Care Company was given the green light to produce Ol’ Roy for Walmart, it hit the jackpot. Doane became the largest manufacturer of private label pet food and the second-largest manufacturer of dry pet food in the United States. They produced pet food for various national brands as well as approximately 175 store brands, including Walmart’s private label brands: Ol’ Roy dog food and Special Kitty cat food.

In 2006, Mars Inc., the parent company of Pedigree, acquired Doane’s U.S. business. This acquisition led to the closure of several Doane plants, causing disruption in the industry as retail chains scrambled to find new private label vendors for their pet food.

Today, Ol’ Roy is believed to be manufactured by J.M. Smucker and its subsidiary, Big Heart Pet Brands.

Advertising Strategy: Visibility on a Budget

Instead of investing in expensive TV and magazine advertisements, Walmart employs a unique marketing strategy for Ol’ Roy. They create visually striking displays of stacked bags of Ol’ Roy dog food, forming eye-catching pyramids. These bright-red labeled bags are hard to miss, often leading shoppers to choose Ol’ Roy simply because of its prominent presence. Walmart’s budget shoppers appreciate that the 15-20% of profits typically spent on marketing by other brands is instead reflected in the product’s affordable price.

In the early 1980s, a 15-ounce can of Ol’ Roy dog food could be purchased for as little as 17 cents, while a 25-pound bag of dry food cost around $4. Over the years, Ol’ Roy faced tough competition from Purina and Pedigree, losing a significant portion of the dog food market. Generic brands now account for only about 15% of dog food sales.

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Photo of Ol' Roy dog food

The Recall History of Ol’ Roy

Ol’ Roy has had several recalls in its history. One notable incident occurred in February 2018 when traces of sodium pentobarbital, a euthanasia drug, were found in samples of Gravy Train dog food. Consequently, the J.M. Smucker Company, the manufacturer of Ol’ Roy, recalled various flavors of Ol’ Roy, Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘n Bits, and Skippy canned dog foods. This was not the first time pentobarbital had been associated with Ol’ Roy.

Other recalls involved potential salmonella contamination in 2008 and 2007, melamine contamination in 2007, can lining separation in 2006, and aflatoxin contamination in 1998. It’s important to note that the formulation of Ol’ Roy has likely changed since these incidents, and the recalls serve as historical reference points.

For a complete list of Ol’ Roy dog food recalls, please refer to the original article.

The Ol’ Roy Legacy

The journey of Ol’ Roy, from being a private label brand exclusively sold at Walmart to becoming the top-selling dog food brand in the United States, is a testament to its quality and affordability. Despite facing recalls and increased competition, Ol’ Roy continues to be a popular choice for dog owners looking for a budget-friendly option. Walmart’s strategic marketing and focus on quality and price have played a significant role in Ol’ Roy’s success.

References: Hook’d Up Bar and Grill