Are you a dog person or a cat person?
We had neither in our house when I was a kid. I think it was because my mother had her hands full raising four kids and didn't want to add an animal to the mix. I did have a goldfish ('Frank' was his name during his too-brief life on Earth) and a hamster (Rufus).
The cats came later, when my older brother Ken brought a kitten home from the steel mill – in his lunch box. When Ken joined the Army a few years later, 'Kitty' became my parents' beloved cat. After that, all of the Bradys seemed to have cats; I brought one home from my workplace in Cleveland as well, and there have been three cats since then.
Anyway, the Journal used to carry a lot of national ads, including pet food ads. Below is an ad that ran in the paper back on March 20, 1963 – sixty years ago today – for Puss n' Boots Cat Food .
|Lorain Journal ad – March 20, 1963|
So what was the story behind the Puss 'n Boots cat food?
Here's an advertising article that I wrote back in the early 2000s for the HKM Grapevine that tells the tale. The second Shrek movie featuring the Puss in Boots character had just come out at that time.
The Nine Lives of Puss ’n Boots® Cat Food
By Dan Brady
One of the highlights of the newer Shrek films for me was the addition of Puss in Boots to the cast. The suave cat stole the show with his swashbuckling antics and proved to be so popular with audiences that he will reportedly star in his own spin-off film. Although fans of this feline may not realize it, there has been a cat food called Puss ’n Boots® since 1934. The story of this cat food may seem a little fishy, but it has a happy ending anyway.
According to the book Brands, Trademarks and Good Will by Arthur F. Marquette, Puss ’n Boots cat food started out as a dog food! Coast Fishing Company in Los Angeles had created a dog food made entirely of fish and named it “Balto” after the famous Husky sled dog. Despite the product’s name, it was more popular with cat owners than dog owners. So Balto was renamed Puss ’n Boots and marketed as the first canned cat food.
The can’s label featured a charming illustration of the boot-clad fairy tale cat carrying his belongings (including a can of Puss’ n Boots cat food) on a hobo stick. It is interesting that the literary Puss in Boots, unlike the Shrek movies’ sword-wielding cat, was a clever conniver who made his master rich through a series of schemes designed to curry favor with the king.
In the early 1950s, the Quaker Oats Company attempted to create its own cat food to compete with Puss ’n Boots, which by that time was America’s largest selling cat food. Much to Quaker Oats’ frustration, taste tests showed repeatedly that cats still preferred Puss ’n Boots to any new culinary creations from its kitchens! Eventually Quaker Oats gave up and bought the Coast Fishing Company, adding Puss ’n Boots to its product line. (Quaker Oats already had the leading canned dog food, having bought the manufacturer of Ken-L-Ration back in the early 1940s.)
During the 1950s, Quaker Oats promoted Puss ’n Boots cat food with full color magazine ads. The ads touted the product’s nutritional benefits and featured beautiful cat photography, as well as testimonials from happy cat owners. Perhaps in response to increased competition from other brands, during the mid-1960s the Puss ’n Boots label was redesigned to look more modern. The fairy tale cat mascot was greatly reduced in size before eventually being relegated to a tiny spot on the back of the can.
Eventually Quaker Oats decided to get out of the pet food industry, and the Puss ’n Boots brand was sold to the H.J. Heinz Company during the 1980s. In 2002, Puss ’n Boots became part of Del Monte Foods Company when Del Monte and Heinz merged, joining other cat food brands including 9-Lives® and Kozy Kitten®. According to the Del Monte website, Puss ’n Boots is still produced at the Bloomsburg, PA cannery.
Today, Puss ’n Boots is in very limited national distribution according to a recent email inquiry to Del Monte Foods Consumer Affairs. Recently I found a bag of Puss ’n Boots Choice Blend Dry Cat Food at a local Apples grocery store and was pleased to see that the advertising has returned to its fairy tale roots with a handsome new rendering of Puss in Boots adorning the package. Although this cat may not resemble the debonair movie character, it is still great to see the ‘star’ of the original canned cat food back in the spotlight more than 70 years after his debut.
****Since the above article was first published back around 2005, Puss 'n Boots Cat Food has been discontinued. In 2011, there was an attempt by a company called Retrobrands U.S.A to
revive it (presumably to cash in
on the popularity of the movie franchise) but this ploy was apparently ignored by a finicky public.
And as for the sword-wielding Puss in Boots, he
has continued to star in his own popular film series, most recently in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish