When it comes to waterers and feeders for cats, pet specialty retailers and manufacturers are seeing several trends relating to aesthetics and functionality.
"Décor-friendly options continue to be popular in this category," said Terese James, product manager for the hard goods division of Petmate in Arlington, Texas. "Now more than ever, pet owners want utilitarian products that are also attractive and that work with different home décor styles."
Emily Thorn Carlson, manager and co-owner of Thorn’s Pets & Supplies in Galesburg, Ill., also sees movement in the area of décor-friendly options.
"There’s a trend in better aesthetics," she said. "People want cat fountains that are functional but also nice looking and that blend in with the pet parent’s home."
Products using technology that assist in pet care and nurturing, such as electronic waterers, and programmable or smart feeders with or without cameras, are becoming more popular, James noted.
"As pets become more and more part of the family, there is more demand for products that are easily incorporated into the home and that increase the bonding experience," she said.
Catering to a cat’s natural instincts is another reason pet owners might look beyond the basic bowl.
"Cat parents are considering their cat’s natural instincts surrounding feeding time," said Dr. Liz Bales, CEO of Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. in Camden, N.J. "They are aware that how you feed your cat is just as important as what you feed your cat."
Fresh Feeding and Watering Solutions
Petmate recently introduced the Fresh Flow Rain Fountain, said Terese James, product manager of the hard goods division for the Arlington, Texas-based company.
"This system is completely battery operated, allowing pet owners to place the system anywhere in the household without being tied to an outlet," she said. "Batteries will last for months due to the water-flow design. Multiple sounds of the water ‘raining’ will draw pets’ interest and encourage them to drink."
Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. in Camden, N.J., has reintroduced the Doc & Phoebe’s Indoor Hunting Feeder. The feeder is designed to be a complete bowl replacement, allowing the cat to hunt, catch and play with five small meals a day.
"It comes with one trainer, five feeders designed for any size kibble, five skins designed to simulate the tactile feel of prey—allowing your cat to grab, claw and use its teeth as it would in the hunt—and one scoop, which holds 1.6 tablespoons," said Dr. Liz Bales, CEO of Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co.
Last fall, PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., launched the Six Meal Feeder, said Sarah Beene, category manager for PetSafe water and feed solutions. It automatically feeds pets one to six customized meals a day, each containing up to one cup of dry or semimoist food.
"Designed with prying paws in mind, the Six Meal Feeder has a unique dispenser that rotates and drops the food into a bowl while keeping pets from stealing future meals," she said.
To make feeding time easier for older pet owners, ReachaBowl in Louisville, Ky., recently introduced its product of the same name, said founder Vadim Gordin.
"Taking care of pets when we get older is something that’s very easy to take for granted," he said. "When someone has back pain or balance issues, bending down to pick up a dog or cat bowl can be a scary and painful experience. ReachaBowl helps them by providing a tall handle that the pet owner can use to lift the feeder without having to bend down to the ground."
Call Attention to Feeders and Waterers
In order to show consumers the benefits of feeding and watering systems for cats, both pet specialty retailers and manufacturers employ a number of marketing tools.
"We display the boxed fountains in many areas of the store so that all shoppers get a glimpse of them," said Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash On Life in Albuquerque, N.M. "Many pet parents have no idea that pet drinking fountains are readily available and are very healthy for their pet’s water intake. Any store space that is not fully merchandised is likely to have a fountain inserted there for extra visibility."
Lacey Velasco, manager of Pet Street Mall in Tampa, Fla., has used a gift basket motif on display area shelves to call attention to feeding and watering systems.
"Putting a high-quality, stainless-steel waterer, a colorful toy and a unique bowl set together is eye-grabbing," she said. "Sometimes the items sell all together; sometimes the customer builds their own set."
Taking the time to tell pet owners about the right way to use feeding and watering systems is another important aspect of selling these products, said Emily Thorn Carlson, manager and co-owner of Thorn’s Pets & Supplies in Galesburg, Ill.
"It’s important with any food or water system to keep it clean and change the filter at least as often as the manufacturer recommends—more often if there are more pets in the household," she said.
Frank Cirillo, vice president of sales and logistics for Cats Rule Dogs Rock in Weston, Fla., also said an in-store display is an effective way to market waterers for cats.
"Many cat owners have cats who like to drink from a running faucet, so when they see our fountains operating with the continuous flow of fresh, filtered water, they immediately understand the concept," he said. "In addition, we always stress the need for hydrating your pets. Anything pet owners can do to help encourage their pets to drink is beneficial."
Hydration is also an important topic for PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp. In 2013, PetSafe created an awareness campaign called Pet Hydration Month, which takes place every July.
"The goal is to remind pet parents to keep their pets hydrated, especially during the hot summer temperatures," said Sarah Beene, category manager for PetSafe water and feed solutions. "This year, we are expanding our campaign to focus on feeders as well to spread the word about pet obesity and the importance of correctly portioned meals."
Beene added that because it’s important to reach customers where they are, PetSafe leverages social media, digital advertising, in-store promotions and POP displays to drive education and awareness.
"We work closely with retail partners to provide assets they can use to promote the category in their own stores," she said.