Center Store

A New Spin on Pampered Pets

Wellness-focused trends are shifting far beyond food alone
Illustration by Rami Niemi

The U.S. pet industry is on a healthy growth trajectory—and health-focused products are a big reason why.

“Health and wellness is paramount to success in pet innovation,” according to Euromonitor’s Healthy Pets, Happy Owners: Health and Wellness Product Development in Pet Care report. “Health and wellness issues have become one of the main drivers of innovation in pet care today.”

“The health and well-being of our pets is a major consideration for manufacturers these days,” says Tierra Bonaldi, a pet lifestyle expert at the American Pet Products Association (APPA). She says today’s consumers want to do all they can to ensure a long and healthy life for the furry members of their family.

Joe Toscano, VP of trade and industry development at Nestle Purina, believes it’s more than health and wellness issues at the heart of category growth, but rather “the current consumer mindset to choose better-for-you products.”

“In general, people are looking for cleaner and more natural food for themselves, and they’re seeking the same for their pet,” he says.

Many agree the trend extends beyond food. “We’re noticing more fitness and activity trackers, health monitors, sunscreens, UV protection clothing, orthopedic beds, specialty supplements, brain stimulating puzzles, slow feeders, anti-anxiety products, BPA feeders and more,” Bonaldi says.

An Eye on Ingredients

The longer life expectancy dogs and cats now enjoy and an increase in the population of overweight pets are factors driving demand in the category. Products that promise to aid weight management or slow cognitive decline, or those that mimic trends such as paleo, grain-free and gluten-free diets prevalent in the human food category today, are among the most popular, Euromonitor reports. Understanding just what the phrase “health and wellness” encompasses and the ingredient makeup of products stocked on store shelves is important for retailers hoping to capture market share.

Ann Hudson, VP of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands’ Buddy Biscuits and Dogswell Happy Hips lines, offers insights on why this is so: Nearly one-third of pet owners “say they make pet food/treat choices based on ingredients, and 20% of people say they make pet food/treat choices based on health reasons,” she says.

It will take more than simple marketing claims, however, to engender customer loyalty.

“Shoppers are looking past marketing claims to base their purchase on what they see in the ingredient panel,” reports Nielsen. The company recorded a 6% decline in sales of pet foods that claim to promote joint health, but an increase in sales of products that include glucosamine (3%) and chondroitin (6%) in the ingredients for the 52 weeks ended March 3, 2018.

So which products are pet parents purchasing? Categories with natural claims are gaining share, and sales of pet foods that include produce-derived superfoods such as blueberries, cranberries and sweet potatoes, as well as those with additional health benefits, are on the rise, according to Nielsen.

Hudson, for example, says sales of Whitebridge Pet’s treats that offer healthy or functional attributes are growing more quickly than the company’s purely indulgent products. The company’s line of Happy Hips treats, for example, includes meatballs made with meat and superfoods such as sweet potatoes, spinach and carrots.

Another example of the kind of products driving sales in the health and wellness category: The Rachael Ray Nutrish Indoor Complete Cat Food recipe, which features superfoods such as lentils, dandelion greens and cranberries for urinary tract health. The line “has been our most successful cat food launch ever,” says Kim Marsh, VP of sales for Ainsworth Pet Nutrition.

Protein, always an integral part of canine and feline diets, is also in the spotlight. “In light of growing health concerns for our four-legged family members, consumers are newly focused on the variety and amount of protein in their pets’ diets,” reports Nielsen, which notes that as the demand for transparency is increasing, meat is more commonly the primary ingredient.

While chicken boasts the majority of dollar spend, products with multiple proteins are gaining steam: As of early March 2018, 64% of pet foods contained more than one protein, according to Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight.

“Consumers are aware of the health and energy benefits of high-protein diets and diets that avoid grains and glutens for themselves, and know that those types of dietary benefits can translate to higher energy and beautiful coats for their pets,” says Marsh. She says the Rachael Ray Nutrish line of pet foods and treats includes meat-first, grain-free and high-protein recipes, as well as recipes with real food inclusions. “Pet parents are looking for real meat as the first ingredient, no poultry by product meal or fillers, and safe, high quality ingredients.”

Clean-Label Growth in Pet Foods

Sales growth among pet foods without these ingredients

Nielsen Product Insider, powered by Label Insight, 52 weeks ended March 3, 2018

Delivering Health and Wellness in the Pet Aisle

With pet owners’ penchant for health and wellness products on the rise, grocery retailers who stock items that appeal to those shoppers have a good chance to drive traffic in the pet aisle. It’s an important goal, considering what sales of pet products do to overall basket ring.

“The pet category is shopped by almost 75% of US households, and pet shoppers spend about 31% more and make 12 more annual trips to the store than non-pet-owning households,” says Toscano of Nestle Purina.

“The pet specialty channel has always been more focused on healthy or functional foods,” says Hudson, “and this is a way for grocery stores to be competitive and keep educated shoppers in their stores.”

Because pet trends follow closely behind those in the human food arena, the pet category offers what Rashell Cooper, director of marketing for Redbarn Pet Products, calls “a unique advantage to always be ahead of the curve in the pet space. If they’re dedicating more shelf space to natural human food, they should consider doing it for pet products too,” Cooper says.  

David Getz, national director of food, drug and mass channel for Kent Pet Group, stresses what grocery retailers have to lose if they ignore the space. “Consumers are looking for these products,” Getz says. “If they do not find them at their primary shopping destination, they will look for them in pet specialty outlets. Offering consumers health and wellness focused products increases basket size and consumer loyalty.”

“Pet is one of the largest center store categories and the super-premium segment, where most healthy offerings fall, is the fastest-growing segment for the past three years,” Marsh says. “Grocery retailers who bring attention to the fact that they carry these healthy brands are winning in the marketplace by growing their pet food sales and share vs. pet mass and pet specialty retailers.”

To highlight products that will appeal to today’s pet parents, Getz suggests “taking health and wellness and off-shelf and focusing consumers on it outside of their routine.” Changing fixtures or creating different product configurations than what shoppers expect can help draw attention to higher-value products, he says.

Other suggestions from manufacturers who work with grocery retailers on a regular basis to merchandise and market pet products and supplies include:

  • Keep healthy/super-premium products together. Marsh says Ainsworth has conducted in-depth consumer research that indicates healthy/super-premium offerings should be shelved together. “Grocers should bring attention to the fact that they carry these items by featuring them on displays outside the aisle and educating consumers on the benefits of these items in their flyers or with signage at shelf,” she says.
  • Focus on the appeal of one-stop shopping. “I believe consumers will still shop at their favorite local pet store for expertise but need to have options in grocery, too,” says Kathleen McCarron, owner of Portland Pet Food Co. “This can be food, supplements or toys.” She suggests merchandising healthy pet offerings such as Portland Pet Foods’ pouch meals as a grab-and-go selection in the deli area.
  • Create a dedicated pet endcap. Toscana says this is a great place to show consumers where the pet aisle is, and to highlight the newest and most innovative products. He says Nestle Purina can help retailers customize their stores with aisle signs, navigational signs, natural endcaps and differentiated shelving.
  • Balance your approach to the pet category. Online shopping is here to stay—but keeping customers coming to your physical location is an important goal. That’s why creating the best possible in-store experience for your customers is key to driving trips to the store, Toscano says. “A balanced approach offering click-and-collect or home delivery can stimulate additional purchases. Consumers who buy online and in-store spend two times as much as consumers who don’t use both options,” he says.

Whatever approach retailers take, investing the time to understand the health and wellness trend currently impacting the pet category is worth the effort.

“I think most grocery retailers will say their offerings have changed in the past decade and that their customers are interested more and more in products that contribute to their lifestyle in a healthy way,” Bonaldi says. “Trends in pet products have long mirrored human lifestyle trends. By expanding their pet aisle in a strategic way to incorporate more natural, healthy and unique products for pets, they can cater even more to the nearly three-quarters of their customers who own pets.”




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