Fur kids, four-legged children, pet parents — how people tend to refer to themselves and their pets is a clear indicator of just how much their role has changed in consumers’ households. Retailers who understand this and tailor their assortments to meet this marketplace shift are doing well against formidable competition, including online merchants, whose statistics show have been gaining momentum each year.
“Over the years, pets have lovingly fought their way from outdoor animals to indoor pets to taking up a majority of our beds,” said Rashell Cooper, director of marketing at Long Beach, Calif.-based Redbarn Pet Products.
Treating them as true members of the family, including paying attention to their health and whereabouts, Cooper said, is a natural progression that is opening up opportunities for pet product vendors. On top of this, she said savvier consumers are willing to do extensive research on products and entire companies before committing to a purchase, and hopefully becoming a lifelong customer.
“Today’s shoppers are looking for transparency from companies who share similar ideologies as their own,” Cooper said. “Product-wise, they’re seeking out natural food and treat options, probiotics to improve their pet’s quality of life, and technological products like GPS trackers or at-home cameras that can ensure their pets are always safe and connected.”
The pet category is big business for the nation’s retailers. According to industry information, sales totaled about $63 billion in 2017 and are growing at a solid 5%-to-7% annual rate. While much of that growth comes from the medical side, industry officials said that traditional pet food, treats and supplies also are expanding.
Joe Toscano, vice president and director of trade and industry relations at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina Petcare, said that IRI InfoScan data shows that pet care is currently ranked eighth out of 305 supermarket categories, and it’s growing at a rate twice that of the overall center store.
In addition, a Nielsen shopper study found that pet care also has the potential to boost total store traffic, triggering more trips than any other category. “It’s 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,” Toscano said.
At the same time, the growth in millennial pet parents and the trend toward humanizing pets have led to an increased demand for high-quality premium pet products. “We’ve seen an interesting transition happen as of late,” Toscano said. “Several large, natural brands went from being sold exclusively through pet specialty into the aisles in grocery and mass stores. To make room, he said some retailers reduced the assortment of some of the strongest-selling grocery and mass brands, the result of which was no significant uplift in new households as a result of these channel jumpers. The most successful retailers, he added, expanded their pet department to accommodate the new brands, capturing increased sales from the trade-up while not losing existing shoppers.
Seizing Opportunity Steven Yde, vice president of marketing at the NAC division of Sterling, Ill.-based Wahl Clipper, pointed out that pet grooming is a textbook example of a missed opportunity within pet care. “While I can think of a few mass, drug and grocery chains that have taken advantage of pet grooming, others have either not even attempted to do more or have actually de-emphasized the category,” he said.
In contrast, he said those retailers that have taken advantage of the opportunity have seen some tremendous gains in their pet business. With the economy booming, one would think dog groomers were seeing a huge uptick in business, but more consumers are willing to take on bathing and trimming their pets themselves. Yde said that as millennials come of age and get their own dogs and cats, it has increased their desire to learn how to take care of their pet. While this trend has been increasing among dog owners for a while, their interest is starting to extend to cats. “Our waterless cat shampoo is selling well above expectations as more cat owners are taking on the role of pet groomer,” Yde said.
The critical component of being successful is to emphasize a complete pet-grooming program, he said. On the other hand, those that just dabble in their offerings are having a tough year. “Retailers who have committed to serving the entire pet customers’ needs have really had a great year so far and proven it is possible to compete against online merchants,” Yde said.
Suppliers are expanding offerings to increase consumer interest and build sales and profits. “We know today’s consumer, regardless of age, wants treats they not only feel safe feeding their pet, but provide nutritional benefits at an affordable price,” Cooper said, noting that Redbarn’s new line, Chewy Louie, is the company’s solution for consumers who are looking for treats and chews made with natural, limited ingredients.
“With this launch, we want all pet parents to experience peace of mind, knowing when they treat their dog to Chewy Louie Natural Dog Chews, they’re giving natural ingredients, minimally processed for their dog to safely enjoy,” she said.
Given that the natural and better-for-you trends show no sign of slowing down, officials at Nestlé Purina recently renovated the entire Purina ONE line of dog and cat foods to be natural. Its Beneful and Dog Chow lines also are becoming more premium, offering real meat as the top ingredient, as well as limited formulas and no artificial ingredients. Targeted nutrition formulas, such as Purina ONE Vibrant Maturity 7+ for senior dogs or the company’s new Bella brand formulated for small dogs, present opportunities for trade-up in the aisle as well, Toscano said.
He noted that because wet cat food is a phenomenal basket builder for retailers, Purina offers two popular varieties — Friskies and Fancy Feast. “We continue to innovate with both of these brands, and now offer large variety packs in both,” Toscano said. “Our treat portfolio at Purina is being renovated, as well. You will see most of our dog treats start with real meat, further aligning with the better-for-you trend.”
Destination: Loyalty Something Cooper said Redbarn always has done, and will continue to do with its Chewy Louie line, is work with its retail partners to design store floor plans with their customers in mind.
“If shoppers are looking for ‘Made in the USA products,’ for example, how can you make it easy for them to find?” she said. “And once in the right area, how can you organize and highlight products that help the customer quickly identify attractive, secondary-selling products?” Her answer: Start by identifying pet products that their target market is seeking.
“Stores not solely dedicated to pet products may have an advantage when it comes to identifying the next-trending products,” Cooper said, noting that pet trends follow closely behind human trends, be it natural ingredients, probiotics or eco-friendly waste bags. “If a grocery store or drug store is devoting more shelf space to natural makeup products, vitamins or sustainable items, they should consider following suit in their pet aisle,” she said.
Officials at Nestlé Purina agree. The company recently launched its Every Ingredient Has a Purpose campaign. Here consumers can find an in-depth explanation of every ingredient in every Purina brand formula, as well as learn about its quality and safety standards, and track back the source of every ingredient in all of Purina’s pet