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How Much Should Packaging Influence Pet Food Purchasing Decisions

If the food I chose to feed my two German shepherd dogs was based solely on the packaging, I’d be hard-pressed to make a decision of any kind.



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Pet food manufacturers go to great lengths in the hopes that their product packaging will catch consumers’ eyes as they peruse heavily stacked aisles. And there’s a lot of great packaging out there. I’m not going to name names, but there is beautiful imagery, gallery-quality renditions, contemporary and clean designs, vintage packaging that harkens to a simpler time … the array truly is dazzling. If the food I chose to feed my two German shepherd dogs was based solely on the packaging, I’d be hard-pressed to make a decision of any kind.

According to Packaged Facts’ new report, Pet Product Packaging Innovation: Consumer Perspectives, the packaging choices of marketers are among the most influential trends affecting the future of pet products due to the fact that packaging is closely linked to consumer satisfaction.

“… The packaging surrounding a product made for pets is the first interaction a consumer has with that product,” said David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts in Rockfield, Md. “The packaging has to possess the ability to catch the consumer’s eye and provide information on the product in an engaging fashion, as well as be convenient to use and carry, provide suitable protection for the product inside the packaging and be environmentally friendly to boot.”

I take a bit of an issue with this outlook.

Independent retailers need to help customers see beyond the packaging to the product inside.

Speaking strictly as a consumer and not as a member of the pet industry, I have to admit that my decision has little, if anything, to do with the packaging of my pets’ food. Secure closures? My pets’ food goes straight into a large, air-tight container at home. If it’s environmentally friendly, that’s a bonus, because the empty bag goes right into the recycle bin. Handles? Great, but the bag is still superheavy, and there’s no getting around that, because having to purchase smaller, lighter bags more frequently just isn’t convenient.

New designs, fresh labels and innovative closures all strive to impart a message of care, of quality. Of staying on-trend, ahead of the pack. All important things, yes. But the fact is that the vast majority of pet food products carried by independent pet retailers already embody these qualities, upgraded packaging or not.

My judgment might be clouded because I might rank among the more educated on the subject, and no doubt many consumers out there are swayed strongly by packaging, but here’s why independent retailers need to help customers see beyond the packaging to the product inside, the best product for their individual pet.

Because there still is an oftentimes overwhelming plethora of choices for average consumers—even for educated consumers who purchase one kind of premium or superpremium food but routinely wonder if brand X or brand Y offers something that the current choice doesn’t.

So I’ll repeat the truth we already know: Independent pet retailers are killing it over big-box players because of their expertise, knowledge and ability to drill down and ask the right questions to discover the best pet food fit. They provide that truly custom, personalized approach. The trends of humanization and whole, fresh ingredients from reputable sources point to a logical conclusion that consumers increasingly care more about the beauty of the food on the inside than the packaging of the food on the outside.

So here are my questions for independent pet retailers: How big a part does packaging play in your decision to stock a food? How big a role does food packaging play in your customers’ decision to purchase a food? What other factors play a greater role?

​Ellyce Rothrock, involved in the pet industry for 20 years, is editor-in-chief of Pet Product News International, student of all market and consumer trends, and owner of two rescued German shepherd dogs, Fritz and Mina. Email her at erothrock@petproductnews.com.

 

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