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Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2003

Food packages assist pet owners on road

June 1, 2003

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Reality bites when you're traveling with a four-footed companion. That's what Angela Giguere discovered during her semi-annual trips between her summer home in Rhode Island and her winter home in Florida. While Sebastian, her blond cocker spaniel, was great company on the road, taking care of his dining needs turned out to be tougher than finding a Starbucks soy latte at a roadside rest stop.

"People can stop anywhere to eat, but pets can't," says Giguere. "You have to pack food, water and bowls, set it all up and then wash everything out and repack it. It was such a hassle and such a mess. It drove me crazy. I kept saying somebody should do a Happy Meal for pets. When no one did, I decided to do it myself."

The result was Travel Meals, prepackaged food for pets with wanderlust. Dog and puppy meals include water, dry food, biscuits and a special "scoop" bag; cat cuisine includes food, water and a tiny, single-use litter box and litter. Everything is packaged in sturdy, plastic containers that double as food and water bowls. Initially, Travel Meals contained a generic brand of pet food, but a recent licensing agreement with Procter & Gamble has allowed Travel Meals to feature the more upscale Iams.

"We're all dog and cat lovers at the Iams Co., and we know what it's like to travel with our pets," said Alberto Huerta, marketing manager for Iams Dog Foods. "While it's a lot of fun, it can be very difficult unless you're prepared."

To serve, pet owners simply open the dual bowl container and sealed bags of water and food, pour and serve. Afterward, all you do is toss the empties and hit the road. No fuss, no muss, no smelly pet food in the car.

The meals, which sell for about $5, are available at pet stores and on the company's Web site, www.travelmeals.com. The Web site also includes tips for successful traveling with pets; a link to a searchable list of American Animal Hospital Assn. members in the United States and Canada, useful for finding help when problems arise en route; and info on Fodor's "Road Guide USA: Where To Stay With Your Pet," 1st Edition.

There's a big market for pet-travel products. An estimated 160 million people and 500,000 pets travel by air each year, while countless others travel in cars and campers. And pet owners are spending money hand over paw for specialty products and services for their furry friends. Americans spend more than $20 billion annually on veterinary care, grooming and boarding, food and pet supplies, and that figure increases every year.

Giguere gets e-mails from customers who keep the meals on hand for everything from outings in the park to emergencies, such as car breakdowns, traffic jams and even tornadoes and hurricanes. She's also had inquires from pet-friendly hotels interested in adding Travel Meals to room-service menus.

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