Food giant commits to keeping Blue Buffalo HQ in Wilton

General Mills committed to keeping the headquarters of Blue Buffalo Pet Products in Wilton, after spending $8 billion in April 2018 to acquire the premium pet food maker.

Blue Buffalo is expanding to 50,000 square feet of space at its River Road offices in Wilton’s center, according to the commercial real estate advisory firm CBRE, about a third more space than Blue Buffalo had on an earlier lease that was set to expire in 2021 and sufficient for at least 200 employees.

The Blue Buffalo lease was the third largest in southwestern Connecticut during the final quarter of 2018, with New York Comic Con producer Reed Exhibitions taking nearly 95,000 square feet at 201 Merritt 7, where Xerox has its headquarters as does the ginger beer maker Reed’s.

Blue Buffalo has been one of Connecticut’s runaway successes of the past two decades, with the company created by Bill Bishop Sr. with sons Billy and Chris to market pet food after experimenting with recipes for a family dog.

The company went public in 2015, with General Mills pouncing last year as Blue Buffalo steadily increased market share against the Purina brand of Nestle and other major brands. In its most recent quarterly report, General Mills valued the intangible Blue Buffalo brand alone at $2.7 billion.

Under Blue Buffalo CEO Billy Bishop, the company has been working to expand its distribution in supermarkets like Stop & Shop and other mass retail channels, with a Susquehanna International Group analyst stating in mid-November that the pet-food industry is expecting a major Blue Buffalo expansion into Walmart under General Mills ownership.

In mid-December, General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening predicted “tremendous long-term growth for the Blue brand” with sales up 9 percent over the preceding two fiscal quarters.

Harmening said Blue Buffalo is making strides as well in its line of pet treats like dog jerky and Sizzlers moist treats, with growth of 20 percent in that broader category. Harmening drew an analogy to snacks sold by General Mills under brands like Annie’s, Bugles, Chex and Nature Valley.

“Treats — I mean, that’s just ‘pet-food speak’ for snacking,” Harmening said on a December conference call. “We see snacking trends in human food and … pet (food) the same way; and one of the things when we bought Blue Buffalo we were excited about was that the ‘humanization’ of pet food. … We think it’s a huge opportunity.”

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