Like in so many other pet product categories, the trends in feeders and waterers are being driven by problems that cat owners are looking to solve. Whenever a product can resolve an issue—or simply make life easier—pet owners are going to see the value in it.
"Pet parents are seeking out solutions to solve bad habits for both feeding and hydrating their feline family members," said Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass. "Hydration is essential to good health, yet many cats are finicky drinkers who seek out or demand running water. The waterer/fountain category shows no signs of slowing as consumers seek reliable solutions that address this issue for finicky drinkers."
The Hagen Group’s Catit line of waterers, including the Flower Fountain, Stainless Steel Fountain and Mini Fountain, are designed to meet these needs. All of the fountains are designed for multicat homes and provide clean, silent running water for cats of all sizes.
Starla Carter, manager at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., said that her customers are increasingly educated regarding the need for cats to be better hydrated. The store is seeing an increase in sales from fountain-style waterers as a result, she noted.
"The fountains stimulate cats to drink more since they prefer that water movement," she said. "Cats will definitely drink more from the fountain than they will from a standing water bowl."
The idea is that the water is fresher—and cleaner. But it’s important that the design of the watering system makes this possible.
"Watering solutions for cats should include filtration to remove dirt and dander," Hall said. "Cats will seek out clean, clear running water, so the Catit Flower Fountain provides running water through the uniquely designed flower element that creates the running water effect."
On the feeding side, cat owners are focusing more on excessive or fast eaters, Hall noted.
"For this issue, consumers are seeking interactive solutions that force cats to ‘work for their dinner,’" he said. "These food trees and treat mazes also help with obesity issues."
Technology in Feeders and Waterers
Offering Convenience and Connection
In addition to seeking solutions to problems, these days, cat owners are more interested in the ways in which technology can contribute to convenience. The introduction of more programmable feeders and treaters that can be controlled remotely by an app demonstrate that technology is impacting the lives of pets as much as it is their owners’.
Dogness Group in Plano, Texas, has several technology-based solutions that have gained serious traction—particularly with the millennial market, said Justin Schwab, global sales manager for the company.
"Millennials are driving the market right now and are having pets for a longer period of time before children," Schwab said. "They have that extra income to spend on their pets and are looking for new products. Our feeder has a camera [with] which you can access and see a live feed. With this, you can record or take pictures and save them point to point, right to your phone."
Many of the company’s products were a major hit at the Consumer Technology Association’s CES trade show in Las Vegas in January, Schwab said. Among them was the Smart Cam Feeder. In addition to "checking in" on pets via the camera, it allows pet owners to feed their pet using their mobile phone on demand or to set a schedule for specific feeding times. Similarly, the company’s Mini Treat Robot also uses the simple free app that allows pet owners to interact with their pet, by seeing them on a camera, and feed treats when desired, Schwab said.
For PetSafe, a brand of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., category manager Sarah Beene said that the company’s new Drinkwell 2 Gallon Pet Fountain is an example of a product solution that was co-created with customers who have demanded products that demonstrate "reliability, ease of maintenance and customization."
"A fully adjustable waterfall is included to meet both the needs of pets that love falling water and pet parents that desire a quiet fountain," Beene said. "As another example, our Wi-Fi enabled automatic feeder, the PetSafe Smart Feed, provides customers with the ease of managing their feeder through an app. This spring, we will add some exciting features that will make this feeder even more convenient."
Starla Carter, manager at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., said that for the busy pet owner, products that can provide some assistance are worth the investment for them.
"They want to be home more than they often can be, and these types of products provide a solution to that," she said.
Sales of feeders and waterers spike noticeably during vacation months—such as during spring and summer—versus the "off season," such as the winter, according to Dan Owens, co-owner of Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Charlotte, N.C.
"Feeders and waterers make it easier for cat owners to spend a night away or take a weekend vacation and make sure that their pet is still getting fresh water and timed feedings," Owens said.
Show Off Feeders and Waterers
When it comes to selling feeders and waterers, seeing is believing. Kathleen Evett, owner of The Upper Paw in Dallas, said that when these types of products are stuck on a shelf in a box, they simply don’t generate a lot of interest. Evett likes to keep a demo model on the floor, where customers can actually see it.
Starla Carter, manager at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., said the store gifted a waterer to a local adoption group that uses Denny’s Pet World for adoptions.
"Though it wasn’t the intention, keeping that water fountain running in the adoption room for the cats they’re adopting out has actually been a great way for our customers to see the product in action," Carter said.
Damian Hall, senior marketing manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., added that live displays can be a great opportunity for independent retailers to differentiate their shopping experience from that of online retailers.
"Set up live product displays—customers cannot touch and feel products on a website, but they can at retail," Hall said. "Educate your staff on the benefits of water fountains and interactive feeding, and work with your manufacturing partners to train staff. There are between 85 and 95 million cats in American homes. We cannot let this customer shop elsewhere."
John Rodriguez, director of home solutions for Petmate in Arlington, Texas, agreed.
"Now more than ever, consumers are making informed purchasing decisions based on rich content that can be found online," he said. "But for retailers, having one-on-one interaction with the consumer is key to reinforce that they are staffed with pet experts. Also, having a demo unit out of packaging that can be experienced will always be beneficial."