Shoppers lap up all-natural offerings for their pets

Pet products, much like children’s products, have proven to be recession resistant. Sales of all pet products and services rose 5% in 2009 to reach $53 billion, according to Packaged Facts, and were especially strong in the mass market.

While dog food had the best increases in dollar sales in mass outlets, Packaged Facts predicted an uptick in demand for higher-priced pet supplies during 2010. The market research firm found that even those pet owners who may have cut back in other areas continued to seek out small indulgences for their pets.

“During 2009, sales of dog biscuits/treats and cat snacks rose 8% and 15%, respectively, according to [SymphonyIRI Group,] with cat snacks posting double-digit unit and volume gains of 17% and 11%, respectively,” said the Packaged Facts report.

Even in lean times, pet owners are willing to spend on their furry friends. According to Packaged Facts’ February 2010 pet owner poll, 19% of pet owners strongly disagreed that they are “spending less on pet products these days because of the economy.”

In some locations, CVS has devoted a 4-ft. area in the general merchandise section to pet products. The section includes pet food and treats, as well as private-label pet beds and accessories from MerchSource. The chain also is stocking private-label FidoFlex glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for pets.

Packaged Facts’ study said a growing population of older pets has led to greater demand for specialized products targeting joint, coronary, cognitive and immune system-related conditions. Analysts at the firm believed that pet owners will do “whatever it takes to keep their pets healthy and happy for as long as possible.” The trend, they said, promises “a rosy outlook for all things pet-health related,” whether it’s supplements, natural foods or heated pet beds.

Procter & Gamble recently signed an agreement to acquire Natura Pet Products, the Davis, Calif.-based manufacturer of several natural pet food products. P&G said the move enables the company to expand into the “attractive holistic and naturals” segment of the category, and complement its Iams and Eukanuba brands. Natura brands, which currently is sold in pet specialty stores, is likely to migrate to mass channels.

Loving Pets’ president Eric Abbey said the drug channel is beginning to recognize “that there is a lot of opportunity in the pet category for natural snacks and pet accessories. Pet owners with the right demographic to spend money in the category are already shopping the channel and are open to impulse purchases,” he said. “For empty nesters, pets are their replacement kids. These customers have the disposable income, and they are willing to spend the money maintaining the longevity of their pet’s health.”

Walgreens is carrying Loving Pets’ Bella Bowls, stainless steel pet food bowls that come in four sizes and are available in 10 colors; the bowls retail for $3.99 to $4.99. Abbey said Loving Pets has had great success with the bowls in the drug channel, and with in-and-out promotions on its all-natural dog treats. The company worked with Walgreens on in-and-outs with its Gourmet All Natural Wraps and Vita-Hide rawhide and chicken treats, and it is planning on introducing its newest treat, Vegitopia—another all-natural, healthy and affordable treat—into the drug chain, according to Abbey. That new product also will be available in a clip strip and other merchandising options.

Also new at Walgreens, Target and Walmart is Allstar Products Group’s Emery Cat Board, a toy/grooming tool designed to groom cats’ nails while they play. The board, which includes a cat toy and bag of catnip, retails for $19.99.

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