Retailers that create a destination for consumers in the pet aisle will be rewarded with strong sales and loyal consumers.
What was more exciting on Super Bowl Sunday, the actual football game or the Puppy Bowl? For many viewers it was an easy call as pets are becoming more important in peoples’ lives. More pet owners view themselves as “parents” and with increasing frequency they are seeking out higher quality and natural products to nurture their “furry children.”
Between food, treats, toys, grooming, accessories and more, retailers are faced with endless options to fill a limited space within their stores. Rather than neglecting pet, or worse, abandoning it all together, grocers can make a strong impact sales-wise, simply by making a strong commitment to the category and its growing trends.
The growth of pet at grocery is being driven by expanded assortments and new innovation, particularly in the consumable categories such as pet treats and cat litter, industry observers say. “The overall pet category is experiencing moderate growth of 1% across all classes of trade. However, grocery, which accounts for about one third of all dollars, is growing faster than the rest of the market,” says Tina Le Lay, divisional vice president marketing—cat food/treats and litter for The Hartz Mountain Corp., based in Secaucus, N.J.
This growth might be attributed to consumers’ desire for a more personal touch from their retailers, observers add. “As the pet owner population continues to grow along with the disdain of having to go to mass or specialty to get their pet needs, people are more conscious of their time,” says Shay Moeller, product manager, North America consumer pet for Sterling, Ill.-based Wahl Clipper Corp. “That’s where I think grocery has a chance to create a smaller destination. We know from our own history that retailers who have done that have seen tremendous growth in the category.”
According to market research firm Mintel, about 79% of pet owners consider the quality of their pet’s food to be as important as the quality of human food. As a result, pet food makers are heavily focused on offering standout products while establishing or maintaining position in the all-important premium/natural segment.
Utilizing the technology of its Japan-based parent company, Unicharm Corp., Hartz created its gourmet line of cat treats, Delectables. Delectables are available in five flavors: Roasted Chicken, Seared Tuna, Smoked Salmon, Grilled Seafood and Braised Chicken & Tuna.
OmegaPaw expanded upon its Brew Buddies and Meowtinis treats for dogs and cats. The St. Marys, Ont., Canada-based company has added Meowmosa, Meowgaritas, Meowjito and Meowmerlot flavors to its cat treat line-up.
For dogs, Brew Buddies are a soft treat made with the same ingredients as beer. “It’s a fun dog treat that captures the imagination of the dog owner while also being good for the dog,” says Terry Hannaford, OmegaPaw’s CEO. The line now includes Brew Buddies Dark, Brew Sticks and Brew Chews, offering consumers and their pets a variety of flavors, textures and formats.
Manufacturers are also turning to pet food and treat formulation trends like grain-free, meat first and human-grade products, along with weight maintenance and senior food formulations.
“Premium pet food is the fastest growing pet food category,” says Mitch Madoff, global exclusive brands coordinator for Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market. “We know how much our customers care about what they feed their pets, so we’re glad to offer a new line of products with premium ingredients at a value price.”
Last October, Whole Foods introduced its Whole Paws brand, an exclusive line of premium value pet food that features 24 products for dogs and cats. The line includes an assortment of items, ranging from grain-free adult dog food and training treats to indoor cat formula and litter with baking soda.
Along with premium, natural pet products are drawing consumer attention and within the natural category, pet food and pet care sales are on the rise. Observers say that is something that retailers should be keeping a close eye on. If a retailer chooses to make a strong focus on natural, it helps to be an advocate for the green movement and educate their consumers about the benefits of natural, they add.
“My advisement to grocers would be to continue to expand your natural business,” says Jamie Reynolds, national sales manager, grocery for Shweat Scoop, manufactured by Detroit Lakes, Minn.-based Pet Care Systems. “The growth of natural products in the pet class of trade is phenomenal. If you want to get those shoppers coming back to your grocery aisles, you need to offer them the products they’re seeking in other venues.”
Shweat Scoop has found its place in the market with its 100% biodegradable, all natural cat litter. Made from renewable, sustainable resources in the U.S., Shweat Scoop litter consists of natural wheat enzymes and starches and is clay- and chemical-free.
Available in a base size 12.3-pound box, the density of the wheat allows for approximately twice the volume of a clay-based litter, Reynolds says. “It makes us much more cost friendly from a user point of view.”
The brand recently introduced a 15-pound value size box to the grocery trade, along with a 6.28-pound trial-size designed for the new user who is looking to get into the natural category, but at an entry-level price point.
“We’ve been in this position in grocery for about 10 years now. We think that we’re poised to grow our business dramatically in the future on the basis of the quality and type of product that we have and that we’re taking to the customers,” says Reynolds.
The natural trend in pet care extends far beyond food and treats, observers say. Last year, Wahl Clipper introduced a line of all natural dog shampoos. “The Oatmeal Shampoo, available in a 24-ounce bottle, is the most popular,” Moeller says. “It lathers up very well and rinses out easily. We have some great line extensions as well, including a No-Rinse Shampoo. It’s a unique, all natural foaming solution that consumers can wipe through their dogs coat and then towel or comb out the dirt and debris.”
Wahl’s all natural line of bath products includes shampoos for Shed Control, Flea & Tick, Odor Control and a gentle formula for puppies. In addition to the No-Rinse formula, the line extensions include a Doggie Deodorant, to refresh and deodorize pet’s skin and coat with natural oils, and an Odor Neutralizer spray for the home.
An up-tick in sales
Observers have seen a trade up by consumers in the flea and tick topicals category, which many attribute to the retail presence of Frontline; now available outside the vet’s office.
“Consumers are now more aware than ever before that they can purchase efficacious flea and tick products at their local grocer or mass outlet conveniently, and at a fraction of the cost without necessitating a trip to the vet,” says Le Lay.
Retailers looking to do well in pet need to consider their customer demographics, observers say. Consumers who live in cities and are apartment dwellers tend to have smaller animals and cats more often than dogs. In suburban and rural areas, pet owners are more likely to have several animals and large dogs are more prevalent. By understanding the area, its demographics and the needs of those pet owners, retailers can begin to create a destination for these consumers in their pet aisle.
Vestcom’s Jeff Weidauer stresses the importance of store loyalty cards as data sources. “You can begin to understand what type of animals people own, what they are buying, when they are buying it, what share of wallet does pet have overall in a given market and more,” says Weidauer, vice president of marketing and strategy for the Little Rock, Ark.-based retail solutions company. Fast-moving goods with a high purchase rate, like food, supplements, toys and treats should make up the majority of the category, he adds.
Toys often generate strong sales and margins for retailers and Multipet International manufactures and imports a large variety of pet toys for all retail channels. “Retailers have realized it’s a great add-on sale with great margins,” says Leslie Yellin, executive vice president for the Moonachie, N.J.-based company.
By utilizing retailers’ various display vehicles, such as floor displays, end caps and clip strips, Yellin says Multipet’s products are nearly impossible to miss.
The trick is getting consumers to shop the aisle so they will see—and hopefully buy—those items. Yellin says the way to do that is to make pet a destination with consumers and to do that a retailer needs organization and efficiency.
“Make sure your endcaps are organized to draw the customer to the aisle then put your number one selling dog and cat food in the middle or end of the aisle, depending on how your customer shops, so they have to walk the aisle,” she says. “That’s it. Get them through the aisle so they have an opportunity to see what’s there.”