Solid pet food set can get consumers into stores, drive sales

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Solid pet food set can get consumers into stores, drive sales

By Michael Johnsen - 03/09/2018
There is just one secret mass retailers looking to steal pet food share from specialty pet shop operators need to know — and it’s related to one of the biggest consumer trends right now. It’s that more pet owners, who are buying products for their furry critters, are becoming as concerned with what goes into their pet’s body as they are with what’s going into their own bodies.

“People are looking for ‘better-for-you’ foods to eat themselves, and that trend is mirrored in what people want to feed their pets. Natural, grain-free and real meat are all trends driving growth in the super premium pet food category,” Joe Toscano, vice president and director of trade and industry relations at Nestlé Purina, said. “While ingredient lists are more scrutinized than ever, sometimes what’s left out of the food is just as important as what’s in it. For example, no corn, wheat or soy continue to trend positively, along with no artificial colors and fewer unrecognizable ingredients.”

According to Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president of the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership is at an all-time high, with pet-owning households numbering 84.6 million. As a result, he said, demand for products that help care for pets is similarly high. APPA, now in its 60th year, will be hosting its Global Pet Expo 2018 in Orlando, Fla., where more than 3,000 products are set to debut at the Orange County Convention Center from March 21 to 23.

“This $66 billion industry is booming, and we’re seeing a surge in innovation like never before with products that help us care for — and in many cases even pamper — our pets,” Darmohraj said. “From gluten-free dog treats to raw and freeze-dried dog and cat foods, to calming products, CBD oils, interactive feeders and pet monitoring systems with cameras, we are seeing a huge shift in products across the board.”

Mass retailers keen on capitalizing on the pet opportunity also should know that dog and cat owners are willing to trade up for better quality products. “Pet owners are becoming more and more willing to pay premium prices to make sure they’re providing their pets with the best,” Danya Kennedy, managing director of sales planning/customer insights and solutions at Mars Petcare, said. “Retailers can continue to offer pet food options that help consumers give their dogs and cats food they can feel good about. They also can make sure their employees are up to speed on the latest pet food trends and offerings so that they can properly inform customers of the benefits of each food, and help them make the right choice for their pets.

A key demographic that well-informed associates can help is reaching the ubiquitous growth opportunity of millennial shoppers, who Toscano said are now the nation’s largest pet-owning generation in addition to being the largest living generation at 75 million. “Millennials are, on average, getting their first pets by age 21, compared with the typical baby boomer, who waited until age 29,” he said. “This generation will make a big impact on the category, as they decide how to allocate their $3.4 trillion in buying power on their ‘starter children.’”

Outside of food, a ready stream of differentiation may help mass retailers set themselves apart from the homogenized offerings at specialty retailers. “Consumers want variety, something new, in pet care. They’re not just looking for a 50-cent savings here or a $2 savings there,” Terry Hannaford, CEO of Omega Paw, said. “Is the pet destination the place where you have everything, or is it the place you go and find something you’ve never seen before? The best pet destinations are the ones where customers can find something new that addresses a new need or want.”

Toscano similarly emphasized the importance of a solid pet set in enticing customers looking for success in the category — and throughout the store.

“The pet category is huge and growing,” Toscano said. “It is an anchor to center store, as the No. 2 reason consumers leave the house to go to the store, and it’s shopped by 75% of U.S. households. When your pet category is healthy, your store is four times more likely to be healthy. So retailers should be treating the pet category as the ‘Big Dog’ that it is by investing in appropriate space, assortment, price and promotion to ensure it is a destination for their consumers.”