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Mealtime in Motion for Pets

Alternative feeding options, advanced waterers and remote treaters are increasingly entering the market, and piquing customers’ interest.


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Pet retailers increasingly find themselves competing for customers’ attention against ubiquitous digital entertainment and shopping options. When it comes to selling staple hard goods such as the classic dog bowl, some retailers have success pushing the upgrade option in the form of high-tech feeders, waterers and treaters.

Generally, most products in the category tend to be upsells and aren’t necessarily fast movers, retailers reported.

“We usually get demand during times of the year when people are going to be leaving and going away, like around Thanksgiving,” said Brian Conneally, co-owner of Acme Pet Food Inc. in New York. “[Customers] want a feeder while they’re away during all the holidays.”

When it comes to feeders, those designed to slow down dogs’ eating are the most popular type right now.

“The slow feeders are really interesting,” said John Headley, co-owner of Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies in San Francisco. “Interactive feeders are pretty cool—they’re my favorite.”

Another popular feature involves adding some interest for dogs and creating an opportunity for foraging and problem solving with puzzle feeders.

“We like … puzzle-type shapes and bright colors,” said Danielle Chockley, bird manager/purchasing manager at Pet Kingdom in San Diego. “[These are] very appealing to not only customers, but to dogs as well, because it’s something different for them.”

Customers go for bright colors and interesting designs when they’re looking for puzzle feeders, she added.

“Dogs don’t see colors so they don’t care; they just have fun,” Chockley said. “I think that is the trend right now—that, and getting [the feeder] high off the ground. We are finding that a lot of dogs are doing better with their respiration if they can get off the ground to feed, especially if they’re larger dogs.”

Aesthetic considerations are on customers’ minds as well when it comes to feeders and waterers, said Chris Shipton, founder and co-owner of Toronto-based Jascor Housewares, maker of the Messy Mutts brand.

“Retailers tell us that home fashion is becoming increasingly important,” he said. “The challenges remain around cost, however.”

 

Feeding the New Product Pipeline

To meet demand for attractive feeders, Toronto-based Jascor Housewares, maker of the Messy Mutts brand, is maintaining its focus on designing items that fit in with home and kitchen décor, said Chris Shipton, founder and co-owner.

The company’s latest offering is the Elevated Double Feeder, which is designed to grow with a dog as it ages. The company will introduce a special edition version, and the feeder will be available in four colors, Shipton said. 

Different alternative feeder options are increasingly of interest to consumers, said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo., and he sees the influence of housewares designs in the category, as well. Additionally, there is growing demand for automatic feeders and waterers, he stated.

A new product from Outward Hound is the Fun Feeder Mat. The flexible slow feeder mat comes in two sizes, and it is designed to encourage dogs to feed up to 10 times more slowly than they would otherwise, Parness said.

The new feeder mat’s expandability is gaining attention in the industry, said Danielle Chockley, bird manager/purchasing manager at Pet Kingdom in San Diego. The color options also are great, she added.

“It’s a bowl that’s going to last for a time,” Chockley said. “Plus, it’s a slow feeder, so it’s aiding in [dogs’] digestion.”

On the high-tech side of dog feeders, smartphone-enabled treaters and other phone-based feeder systems are just starting to appear on the market, sources reported.

“PetChatz is the first-ever, patented Greet and Treat Videophone,” said Lisa Lavin, CEO of Anser Innovation in Minneapolis.

The company officially launched the second generation of PetChatz products in 2016, including PetChatz HD and PawCall, which is designed to provide a two-way remote interactive experience for pet owners and their pets, Lavin said.

 

Teaching Customers About Food Tech

The most important aspect of selling tech feeders, waterers and treaters is to make sure customers understand the benefits of what retailers are offering.

“Many customers don’t even know that there is such a concept as a slow bowl,” said John Headley, co-owner of Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies in San Francisco. “Make sure your employees are well informed.”

Start with a question, Headley suggested, and customers will naturally follow up with their own questions.

This approach provides retailers the opening they need to begin discussing how they can help customers solve their problems.

In some cases, retailers might have to go the extra mile and reach out to customers both in-store via signage and online through email lists and social media to fully explain the benefits of tech feeders and waterers, said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo.

“Create simple infographics and iconography signage with easy-to-understand information on what the pros and cons are for different types of products,” he said. 

To really have success with tech-based feeders, waterers and treaters, it helps to be very familiar with the products and to be ready to discuss their benefits, said Lisa Lavin, CEO of Anser Innovation in Minneapolis.

“The key to success in this category is positioning and knowledgeable selling,” she said. “You must make sure the sales team understands the product enough to sell it.”

The trick is to motivate sales staff first.

“You have to create excitement first in your sales staff,” said Danielle Chockley, bird manager/purchasing manager at Pet Kingdom in San Diego. “Once you get that, it doesn’t matter if the people are interested or not. [Once] you get the newest thing in and you’re telling all your customers, next thing you know, you can’t keep it on the shelf.”

 

Merchandising High-Tech Products

Because some high-tech dog feeders and waterers are relatively new and many customers are not yet familiar with their benefits, it’s important to figure out how to build a market through experimentation.

“Test everything,” said Danielle Chockley, bird manager/purchasing manager at Pet Kingdom in San Diego. “Bring everything in. Test it, try it, and find out if it works for your store to see if you can create a market for it.”

Generally, it might not be best to rely solely on signage, said John Headley, co-owner of Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies in San Francisco. He finds that customers don’t read much in-store, preferring instead to do research online.

“The hardest part is getting the information across,” he said. “If you’re in the store, you’ve got a few minutes [to do so].”

It’s important to make it easy for customers to identify products retailers recommend themselves.

Set up a shelf labeled “top picks,” said Michael Parness, chief marketing officer at Outward Hound in Centennial, Colo. Putting recommendations on display can help drive sales.

Another option is to create a high-tech section in-store.

“We recommend developing and marketing a ‘connected pet’ section within the store,” said Lisa Lavin, CEO of Anser Innovation in Minneapolis.

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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