- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

A 12-inch Homer Simpson doll and a squeaky Winnie the Pooh ball are fetching the attention of pet owners.

Twentieth Century Fox and Walt Disney Co. are tapping into the $31 billion pet industry — introducing their familiar icons to the mutt market.

“People have really responded to these toys,” said Darren Kyman, senior manager of retail and brand development for Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising. “People love it. I think they really want it for themselves.”

In 2002, a consumer spent about $215 on accessories for his or her pet, according to a report by Unity Marketing, a market-research firm in Pennsylvania. That’s more than double the $97 spent on pet extras in 2001.

“People are putting their pets on a pedestal like a family member,” said Stacey Huzi, director of marketing and communications for the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.. “The amount of money they are spending on family members they are now spending on pets.”

According to the association, 62 percent of U.S. households own pets. About 40 million households own dogs, while 34.7 million own cats.

The Simpsons and Disney dog products appear among the racks of toys from rubber bones to squeaky animals at Target in Greenbelt. A handful of racks are empty, once carrying Grampa Simpson’s dentures in the form of a hard, rubber chew toy, a Homer tug doll and a Disney leash-and-collar set featuring Mickey Mouse and Goofy.

Target Stores around the country have been carrying Disney Pets since March and offering the Simpsons products since April.

“The sales are meeting our expectations,” said Lena Klofstad, a Target spokeswoman. “They’re doing a good job of attracting our guests to the pet products and getting them excited about the other pet products we sell.”

The licensed pet products range in price. The Pooh softball with squeaker, or a Mickey or Minnie Mouse collar charm sells for $3.99. A 12-inch Bart Simpson soft, canvas toy is $6.99 and a Marge Simpson flying disc retails at $9.99.

U.S. consumers are expected to spend this year nearly 83 percent more on their pets — from dogs and cats to reptiles and fish — than the $17 billion they spent on their pets in 1994, according to the pet products association. The expenses include veterinary care, food, supplies, services and grooming.

Miss Huzi says the association has seen some licensed products for all kinds of pets, from dogs to fish, at its trade shows including SpongeBob SquarePants and Warner Brothers characters. She won’t be surprised if the industry soon has “Finding Nemo” toys and accessories for the family pet due to the success of the movie from Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

But pet products aren’t limited to fictional characters or animation. Authentic Harley-Davidson denim jackets, spike collars, goggles and bandannas are available for the bad-boy pooch and fearless feline.

Kellytoy USA, which produces the Simpsons pet line, has an exclusive deal with Target until September, Mr. Kyman said. When the deal expires, the toys will be distributed to other mass merchants and pet retailers.

The Helman Group, which develops Disney Pets for dogs and cats, could not be reached for comment.

Despite the success of the Simpsons products, Mr. Kyman isn’t sure if Fox will expand the line to feature the network’s other popular TV series.

“It makes so much sense with the Simpsons,” he said. “They have fun icons and different characters.”

Fox hasn’t forgotten about felines. Kellytoy will make Simpsons-based cat toys in the future, Mr. Kyman said.

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