MASON, OH—Frantic executives of the Iams pet food corporation convened an emergency meeting Wednesday to address the brand's increasingly poor sales among 2- to 4-year-old chocolate-colored Labrador retrievers, company sources reported.
High-ranking employees confirmed Iams has struggled to retain the allegiance of this coveted demographic, which is regarded by the company as a potential revenue engine on par with the perennially hot 5- to 8-year-old dachshund market.
"We are absolutely hemorrhaging postadolescent chocolate labs, and no one seems to have any idea why," Iams chief Dan Rajczak told reporters. "I don't know where we went wrong or how it got to this point, but if we don't win back some of these under-5 chocolates in a big hurry, we can kiss our first-quarter revenue targets goodbye."
"We're not talking about some small-potato demo like newborn Bernese mountain dogs here," Rajczak added. "It's chocolate labs 2 to 4, for God's sake. This is big time."
According to 18 months' worth of sales data, both long- and short-haired chocolate labs have steadily moved away from Iams' range of product offerings, including its ProActive Health canned wet line, Tartar Treats breath-freshening dental chews, and its popular weight-control formulas.
Additionally, reports indicated that the crucial group has all but abandoned the company's pot-roast-flavored Savory Sauce liquid dog-food topping.
"It makes no sense. We're mystified," marketing director Michel Brousset said. "We specially formulated our kibble with prebiotics and antioxidants essential for active sporting breeds, and our beef-in-gravy line tested through the goddamn roof in our 2- to 4-year-old chocolate-lab focus groups just last year."
Added Brousset, "And I thought these dogs were supposed to be loyal."
This latest development is expected to complicate the financial outlook for Iams, which just last year saw its stock downgraded after leadership failed to capitalize on the emerging Labradoodle market.
While they reportedly account for just 8 percent of Iams' total sales, 2- to 4-year-old chocolate labs are considered a vital growth area in the highly competitive mid- to large-sized family dog sector. The behavior of these trendsetting canines is seen as a bellwether for retrievers of all ages.
"Numbers don't lie, and we need to stop the bleeding now, or next thing you know we'll be losing yellow labs, black labs, and—I can't even believe I'm saying this—goldens," Rajczak said. "Meanwhile, Alpo and Pedigree are practically selling sawdust for dog food, but they're killing us in all the major markets: 8- to 12-year-old huskies, 6-year-old Chow Chows, sheepdog puppies, and, hell, even spaniel seniors."
Rajczak said Iams could not afford a loss on the scale experienced in 2004, when it "shit the bed on the whole Chihuahua craze," forcing the company to "play catch-up with those cunts over at Mighty Dog."
Executives have brainstormed several strategies aimed at regaining the retriever demographic, including signing chocolate-lab enthusiast Bill Clinton as a spokesperson, obtaining an exclusive contract with the popular dog-bowl maker K&H, and conducting a stealth marketing campaign in upscale boarding kennels and other areas with high concentrations of 2- to 4-year-old chocolate labs.
All such ideas, however, were dismissed as "blatant pandering" by Rajczak, who noted that "these dogs can smell bullshit from a mile away."
While Iams' Labrador losses have reportedly been offset thus far by the company's dominant 86 percent market share among adult Great Danes, executives remained deeply worried about the company's future.
"Sure, 6- to 8-year-old Great Danes can keep us afloat in the short-term," Rajczak said. "But we can't rely on them forever. They'll all be dead by 2012."