Give Them the People Treatment

November 11, 2014

Store Brands | November 11, 2014 –These days, you do not have to look too hard to find a pampered pet. Eccentric habits aside, pet owners are increasingly treating their pets as part of the family. In fact, pets are now receiving a similar level of care as their human counterparts. From specialized personal care products to a veritable smorgasbord of treats and snacks, it has never been more fun to spoil furry family members.

On the more practical side, pet owners are increasingly making their pets’ health a priority. And with the recent economic recovery, many consumers are looking to the pet care aisle for premium pet food and health supplements — reasonable, low-cost alternatives that can help animals live longer and healthier lives.

Premium pet care

The premiumization of the pet care market continues unabated, confirms a recent report from the Packaged Facts division of Rockville, Md.-based MarketResearch.com. Premium pet food and treats, in particular, are taking center stage.

“All-natural trends continue to see growth in pet care, both in food and treat categories,” says Chris Bisesi, vice president of sales, Pet Brands Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “Ingredient sourcing has become more important, especially when retailers are looking at store brand products.”

Dale Metz, director of the companion animal business at Vets Plus Inc., Menomonie, Wis., agrees.

“People expect high-quality products made by companies with quality certifications and scientific data that show the product is effective,” he explains.

These products feature limited ingredient panels and added health and wellness benefits to maximize nutritional offerings. Additionally, a wide variety of supplements also is coming on the market to address the specific issues related to pet aging and other needs.

“Supplements continue to grow, with pet owners specifically looking to address their pet’s unique needs,” says Jennifer Korngiebel, global business development director of pet for Daymon Worldwide, Stamford, Conn. “[Examples include] oral hygiene biscuits or a treat that includes glucosamine for joint health versus general vitamins.”

Other pet care products address individual cat and dog needs.

“There’s been quite a bit of innovation in litter,” Korngiebel explains, “with new varieties for neutered cats, extended odor blocking for litter boxes that can’t be tended to on a daily basis, lightweight formulations and new scents.”

Making their mark

With so many different types of pets and their unique needs, retailers might find it difficult to zero in on a comprehensive store brand pet care strategy. But when it comes to supplements, they need to look only a couple of aisles over at the human supplement section to get started.

“Our pets deal with many of the same conditions we do,” Metz says. “Probiotics and prebiotics for gut health, as well as multivitamins and products for obesity, are areas of growth that follow the human market.”

Better-for-you foods have become a mainstay when it comes to people food and snacks. Retailers can expect that trend to grow within store brand pet care products as well.

“Within treats, dental/oral care and real meat treat categories are still very underdeveloped,” says Chris Ruben, chief marketing officer for New Hamburg, Ontario-based Eurocan Pet Products and founder of AdoptAShelter.com. “These treat segments are showing substantial growth and offer high profit margins.”

But retailers must be very mindful of the quality of their treat offerings.

“Store brands must provide a superior value,” Ruben explains, “but more importantly, [they] must be viewed as ‘healthy’ and ‘trustworthy’ in terms of ingredients and health benefits.”

Popular with impulse shoppers, pet toys are another opportunity that store brands might want to consider exploring.

“Products must present a value and also have durability to build repeat customers, however,” Bisesi advises.

Litter represents another innovation opportunity.

“Litter is definitely an area where store brands might not have kept up to date with recent innovation,” Korngiebel notes.

Packaging, promos matter

Building trial for own-brand pet care products begins with effective education.

Metz says point-of-sale displays and shelf talkers educate both the staff and the consumer about product benefits, adding that successful promotion requires visibility beyond just the label.

“The biggest mistake I see is a lack of education of the store sales staff,” he explains. “Educating the store staff on the science and features of a product can go a long way in helping a customer choose the right product for their pet.”

And just as most stores organize their offerings according to a seasonal calendar, savvy retailers should be on the lookout for opportunities to incorporate their pet care products as well.

“This is a great way to test in-and-out items and evaluate what might be best sellers to bring in on a more regular basis,” says Korngiebel.

And retailers should not overlook the importance of cross-merchandising and promotion.

“Cross-merchandising within category segments can offer a unique opportunity to build brand loyalty,” Bisesi says. “Giant Eagle has done a nice job of promoting store brands via weekly circulars to build awareness and show value to the consumer.”

And packaging also is critical to winning a sale; it must appeal to the pet owner first and foremost.

Bisesi cautions retailers about the fine line between packaging that’s “too busy” and “too basic.”

Packaging that is uninspired or boring can impact sales negatively.

“Good product and packaging design are important in these segments,” Korngiebel adds, “because pet parents increasingly see their pets as extensions of themselves and their own style and, therefore, want a similar look and quality in their pet care items.”

Healthy outlook

The pet care category shows no sign of a growth slowdown in the near future. Store brands could find themselves active players in this increasingly competitive segment — if they are truly committed to the category.

“Those that make a deep commitment will see their brands outperform the NBEs,” Ruben says. “Not every retailer can/will focus on the pet category, meaning that for some retailers, it may be best to just offer/sell national brands.”

Korngiebel agrees.

“Retailers have to be in the category for the long-term,” she explains, “and have to be willing to support their lines in and out of store via social media, displays, TPRs, coupons and other promotion vehicles.”

And competition is expected to heat up, so retailers must differentiate themselves from the pack.

“This opens up new areas of growth in store brands that have traditionally been overlooked,” says Bisesi. “Innovation and product development will play a key role in successful growth in store brands.”

Do tap into the premium trend when it comes to own-brand pet food.

Don’t play in the pet care category if you can’t give the category the commitment it needs.

Do educate staff and consumers about own-brand pet care items to help build trial.

Don’t overlook underdeveloped pet care subcategories such as oral care and real meat treats.

Look what’s new

New from Walgreen Co., Deerfield, Ill., is the Pet Shoppe Dental Kit Oral Care for Dogs. The kit retails in a 3-oz. carton and contains a pet toothbrush, a finger toothbrush and toothpaste. It is said to feature a fresh flavor.

Now available from Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu is Essential Everyday Unscented Scoopable Cat Litter. The litter is said to contain odor-eliminating baking soda to provide immediate odor control. The economy product retails in a 14-lb. plastic HDPE container.

New from Trader Joe’s, Monrovia, Calif., are Trader Joe’s Glucosamine Chondroitin Chewable Tablets For Dogs. The tablets are said to help to maintain healthy bones, connective tissue, join structure and function. They retail in a bottle containing 100 tablets.

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