IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Wonder what makes a food or beverage sell?

These days success is almost guaranteed if it barks, howls, neighs … or yawns! "Today" show food editor Phil Lempert explains why.

Actors have accepted it for years, never share a scene with kids ... or animals. Whether it’s logical or not — cute, furry, cuddly or even ferocious, these animals tug at our emotions and create a bond that simply doesn’t happen between humans. Remember that retired icon, the Taco Bell talking Chihuahua, who successfully increased the brand’s image? And also made millions weep as he unsuccessfully tried to woo that cute female of the same species?

Perhaps it's because many of us have a special connection with animals: Growing up with family pets such as dogs, cats, bunnies, turtles, fish or hamsters, and learning life’s lessons from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, "Mr. Ed,"  "Lassie," "Rin Tin Tin" and more. But whatever the case, we humans definitely connect with our animal friends.

So what does this have to do with our supermarkets? Plenty, if you want to sell your product! Animal brands and labels are all the rage.

A perfect example of the trend is taking place in the nation's wine departments. That’s where wild animals are roaming these days. It’s a phenomenon that will probably expand beyond the wine aisles and change the face of food marketing and packaging.Let’s take a look at the wine shelves: They look more like a zoo. Wild Horse. Wallaby Creek. Duck Walk. Fish Eye. Little Penguin. Monkey Bay. Goats Do Roam. Black Swan. 3 Blind Moose. Dancing Bull. There also was the rooster on Hahn Estate wines, as well as a wine called 47 Pound Rooster from Rex Goliath. There was the sheep on the Dyed in the Wool wine bottle, the giraffe on the Long Neck Wines bottle, and the kangaroo on the Oz wine bottle. There was even a so-called "mythical create" called a "roogle" — a cross between an eagle and a kangaroo — on the Roogle Rock wines, and something called "Cockfighter's Ghost" that sort of speaks for itself. There's a plethora of animals that can be found on wine labels as vintners try new ways to broaden their appeal to consumers. No longer does it seem to be enough to have a great wine. Now, it seems almost as important to have a cute wine label that will capture a shopper's roving eye as he walks down the aisle. Within the wine industry, these are called "critter labels." They're essentially the progeny of Yellow Tail wine from Australia, which features a kangaroo and has proven to be an enormous success. It's the top-selling imported wine brand in the U.S. (A number of these "critter labels" come from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where many of the wines are excellent but the approach to names and labels seems a little more whimsical than here in the U.S.) ACNielsen reports that of the 438 new table wine brands with sustained consumer sales introduced in the past three years, 77 — or 18 percent — featured a "critter" on the label. Combined with existing critter labels, sales of critter-branded wine over the past 12 months have reached more than $600 million.

There are two interesting points to be made about the success of the "critter labels." One is that most of these products tend to be priced a little higher than equivalent products with less attractive labels, though they also are often sold at a discount because of various promotions. The other is that "critter wines" seem to grow the category, creating new wine buyers or getting existing wine buyers to expand their personal tastes and even spend more money on the purchase. While placing a critter on a label doesn't guarantee success, it is important that wine makers realize that there is a segment of consumers who don't want to have to take wine too seriously.

So as the 76 million Boomers prepare for retirement (in just four years from now the first of the Boomers will reach age 65), with all that disposable income and yearning for their youth, don’t be surprised if such icons as Farfel — that friendly, floppy-eared hound dog with a sleepy drone in those Nestle Quick chocolate commercials — come out of retirement.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .