How Pet Treats, Toppers and Wet Foods are Presenting New Sales Opportunities
Pet product marketers are no slackers when it comes to pet treats and snacks. But the industry is behind the human curve when it comes to tapping in to the overlap between snacks and meals. Human food marketers reap billions of dollars annually by blurring the lines between snacking and mealtime, capitalizing on the purported advantages of “grazing” throughout the day. More than ever and with growing frequency still, on-the-go U.S. consumers are eating less during traditional mealtimes, and marketers have even turned consumer concerns over product formulation, weight gain and nutrition in general to their advantage by offering natural, lower-calorie and “superfood” fare. Within the pet market, three segments are ripe for additional development along these lines:
Treats: Rare is the pet food marketer or pet owner who can be accused of depriving a dog or cat of a treat. As of mid-2019, U.S. retail sales of pet treats are in the neighborhood of $5 billion, with annual growth rates often surpassing those of pet food. For marketers, treats offer numerous advantages, including ease of entry into the pet food business because, not subject to the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) “complete and balanced diet” guidelines, treats can more easily rise to superpremium occasions like limited ingredient, organic and functional. Although the pet treats business is saturated, natural/organic, grain-free and freeze-dried products continue to advance while increasingly incorporating functional ingredients targeting conditions including aging, joints, skin and coat, digestive/probiotic and calming/cannabidiol (CBD).
Meal Enhancements, Mixers and Toppers: Riding both the pet food customization and snacking trends, meal enhancements, mixers and toppers allow pet owners to spice up their pets’ diets, imbue dry food with a sense of freshness and provide supplemental nutrition. Like treats, mixers and toppers are nothing new, but, unlike treats, they have yet to achieve blockbuster sales. Increasingly helping the segment along are marketers of raw, freeze-dried and dehydrated pet foods, such as Stella & Chewy’s with its Chewy’s Chicken Meal Mixers—advertised as, “One simple scoop of Meal Mixers is all it takes to turn everyday kibble into awesome raw nutrition”—and Broth Toppers. Mainstream marketers, too, are weighing in, such as Rachael Ray Nutrish with its Purrfect Broths souplike topper.
Wet Pet Food: The most potent means of pushing the mealtime boundaries may be good old-fashioned wet pet food—although, more often than not, “old-fashioned” no longer applies. Gone are the days when wet pet food was all about canned, with single-serve trays, pouches and cartons affording marketers increased shelf appeal and higher price points and margins. Usage of wet pet food has been rising due to a number of factors, including the shift to smaller dogs. But wet food is also benefiting from its growing role as a mixer, add-in, topper or treat, particularly among millennials. The percentage of pet owners using wet pet food rose by 10 percentage points among dog owners and by 14 percentage points among cat owners between 2009 and 2018, to 40 percent and 57 percent, respectively, according to Simmons Market Research. This is all the more important for pet food marketers as wet food’s high water content means more volume is needed to achieve the same level of nutrition as kibble. Should wet pet food continue to advance, it could, therefore, bolster dollar and volume sales, and one way to help fast track that progression is by positioning wet foods increasingly as treats, mixers and snacks as well as complete meals.
There is one small caveat, however: On the human food side, “grazing” is, as often as not, about eating on the run. And for hurried pet owners, there’s nothing easier than filling the bowl with kibble or using an automated feeding device. When it comes to blurring the pet market lines between snacking and mealtime, however, the greatest opportunity lies in more pet owner involvement in the form of “participatory feeding”—a theme pet food marketers and retailers would do well to embrace. Given the pet parenting and anthropomorphizing trends, it could be a not-too-difficult sell.
David Lummis is the lead pet market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, and author of Packaged Facts’ annual U.S. Pet Market Outlook report (packagedfacts.com/pet-outlook-12153371).