Britain’s pet population has now hit 58.4m – nearly as large as its human population. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 46% of households in the UK have a pet.
“There is a repeat purchase of pet food every 10 days for these consumers, making it extremely valuable for wholesalers,” says Liz Wood, UK & Ireland market development organisation director for Nestlé Purina. “Overall, the current cat food category is worth more than £915m.”
Stocking pet food can also boost sales in other categories, research shows. “Once in-store, pet owners spend more – and not just on pet food,” says Jacqui Dean, convenience channel manager for Mars Petcare.
On average, pet owners spend £782 more each year in-store, according to Mars. Excluding the money spent on pet food, their average basket is worth £4 more.
But many retailers feel they do not understand the petcare market well. So how can you best support them?
Premium pouches in, tins out
Suppliers argue that too many wholesalers and retailers are building their ranges around the rows of tins that have dominated pet food for decades. But change is afoot.
“One of the biggest challenges wholesalers and their customers face is the over-reliance on declining categories like canned pet foods,” says Mars’ Dean.
Sales of cans have fallen by 24% in the past three years. With Felix cat food, for instance, pouches now outsell cans by 12 to one. The trend reflects consumers’ desire for higher quality, premium food for their pets, according to manufacturers.
“Shoppers are increasingly seeking out more premium options as an alternative menu for their cats,” says Nestlé’s Wood. “Pouches offer several benefits, including a fresher serve, better portion control and convenience.”
The rise of premium purchases does not mean that convenience shoppers have lost their eye for a bargain, however. Pricemarked packs are an important way to convince pet owners that they are getting good value for money.
Mars’ Dean says that her business has seen the rate of sale increase by an average of 50% when packs are pricemarked. On some products, the increase has been more than 70%, she adds, including premium products such as Pedigree treats, Sheba cat food and Pedigree pouches.
Pet owners are becoming more health-conscious
The premiumisation of pet care is partly driven by the fact that half of cat owners and dog owners in the UK regard their pets as one of the family.
“In line with human food trends, pet owners are interested in feeding their pets products made from natural ingredients or formulated to meet specific dietary needs,” says Dean.
The most common disease for dogs is gum disease, which affects 80% of those older than three years old and is particularly prevalent among small dogs. Gum disease also affects 72% of cats older than three, according to Mars.
For that reason, the company has developed a range of treats designed to improve pets’ dental hygiene, including Pedigree Dentastix, which reduces tartar build-up by 80%, and Whiskas DentaBites, which both have British Veterinary Dental Association approval.
Treats are big business
Just like humans, pets love their snacks, which is why the pet treats sector is now worth £389m, according to Nestlé.
Just as indulgent owners want to provide better meals for their pets, they also want to give them treats. Mars’ Dean says that 78% of owners want more special moments with their pets to enhance their relationship.
Three-quarters of dog-owning households buy treats for their pets each year, while 45% of cats are now fed between meals, compared to only a third in 2010. “There is no doubt that care and treats are fast-becoming the number-one must-stock item for wholesalers, unlocking greater basket spend and encouraging those all-important impulse purchases,” she says.
“Treats exchanged between owners and their pets can enhance the strong emotional bond between them, as well as provide functional health benefits and help with training, particularly for dogs.”
This also means that special occasions are an opportunity to drive petcare purchases as well as the more usual celebratory items.
Nestlé Purina says that cat treats were worth £35m at Christmas last year, with 63% of pet owners and 21% of those who do not own pets buying a gift for the animal in their life – and the same goes for other occasions, from Easter to Halloween.
Half of treats for animals are bought on impulse by their owners, so point-of-sale materials can help retailers boost their sales.
“We know that secondary sites in-store play a vital role in unlocking greater basket spend and encouraging last- minute purchases,” says Dean. “Popular and effective secondary sites include the checkout, and using clip-strips and counter-top units can create points of interruption in-store. Wholesalers need to make sure their retail customers are following this advice.”
“Petcare is one of the ranges that I have extended – the British people are very much into their pets. They may buy the Nisa Heritage range for themselves, but for the pet, they will get the Whiskas or Butcher’s instead – the branded stuff. I am not a pet owner so I do not understand it! I use my area manager to get the range right – category advice is important.”
KULLY SANDHU, Nisa Local
“We are a very small store, so space is the problem: you go into a big supermarket and there is an aisle of cat and dog food whereas we have six shelves on a stand 2.5ft wide. Mostly, our regulars know what they want, but special offers and promotions always help. We also try to get as much pricemarked packs as we can.”
DEBBIE DAVIES, Pughs@Londis
“We look for something different rather than your standard Pedigree, Felix or Whiskas – something that you do not see in every other shop. People have become pet food-savvy in the same way that they have become savvy about human food. They are looking for organic food and they are looking for free-range food.”
JACK MATTHEWS, Bradley’s Supermarket
“We are trying to do more and more petcare because everyone has got pets now and they are part of the family. But we could do with a little more help in depots and cash & carries, such as advice on the category, help with planograms and things like that. Knowing what the big-sellers are would be really helpful.”
BAY BASHIR, Belle Vue Convenience Store