Before you scoff at that idea, consider how the entire approach to marketing pet products has shifted to the human consumer product marketing model.

Trends that have shaped CPG marketing over the past 10 years:

  • Big companies entering the market, squeezing out mid-size brands
  • Rapid changes
  • Premiumization/super premiumization
  • Demand for healthy, natural, organic and better-for-you foods
  • Omni-channel
  • Elevated private label
  • Proliferation of specialty foods and indulgent offerings
  • Booming e-commerce and online-in store integration

All of the above and more is playing out in the pet industry, particularly foods. There are at least 86 billion reasons for this phenomenon, which Packaged Facts estimates is the size of the pet product industry, 39% of that for food alone.

Of course Mars, maker of some of the world’s favorite candy, has been in the pet food business for decades, with brands such as Iams, Pedigree and Whiskas, but recent moves by other CPG giants demonstrate that they are also buying into the category’s potential. Literally.

Big Food, Big Bucks

Just as “big food” has been busy buying up premium specialty CPG brands in an attempt to recapture market share, they are now setting their sights on pet products. Earlier this year, General Mills, makers of Cheerios, acquired Blue Buffalo natural pet food for a staggering $8 billion, which is almost the size of the entire RTE cold cereal category in the US. Blue Buffalo’s dog and cat food is made with whole meats, fruits and vegetables, so this purchase alone has catapulted General Mills into the leadership position in the Wholesome Natural pet food segment. Smucker’s recently acquired Rachel Ray’s super premium, natural Delish brand. With this move, pet products now deliver the largest portion of the Smucker’s company’s sales. Wow. Or should I say Bow Wow?

Omni Channel

Pet parents, like all other consumers, want a shopping experience to suit their lifestyle (and spending patterns). While supermarkets are still the preferred channel for pet products, big box pet stores are holding steady for now, as are discounters, while e-commerce continues to grow. (Remember pets.com? Seems like they were ahead of their time.)  PetSmart acquired Chewy.com and the addition of eCommerce and catalogue sales will be a key generator of growth.  And here comes Amazon, which already was the number one online pet food retailer, launching their private label “Wag” pet food. At the other end of the spectrum, Pet Plate will prepare and deliver freshly cooked, ready to eat meals to the home. There’s something for everyone, in just a few clicks.

Experiential Shopping

Petco is an interesting company to watch. They maintain a robust online presence, with a broad range of products including JustFoodForDogs, human-grade meals with proven health benefits available by membership only, but they are also committed to providing a better in-store experience, with head-to-tail service offerings and a blending of the online-offline experience. Their PetCoach business, an online, veterinarian curated, health and wellness site is being brought to life in brick and mortar, with hopes of becoming a shopping destination for pet parents looking for personalized pet services, products and experiences. Enhanced digital and mobile tools will give consumers 24/7 access to support for their pets. It will be interesting to see what sticks.

What Does This Mean for Specialty Stores?

While the number of specialty stores is shrinking, there is evidence that the best stores are rising to the top, and these pocket chains have a deeper understanding of their local markets and customers.  They move faster and are willing to offer unique brands and retail experiences not offered in mass channels as well as innovations and promotions that you won’t see in efficiency-driven big box stores.

What Does This Mean for Brands?

With so much upheaval and so many players battling for share, what’s a mid-size, mid-market brand to do? Look for success stories and best practices among CPG marketers outside the pet category. They’ve already been where you’re going.

CPG Best Practices to Compete and Win:

  • Whoever knows the shopper best, wins. Invest in research and insights to gain a better understanding of your category and its consumers
  • Be different and innovative. You might discover the new, new thing that will help you capture a bigger share of this $87B dollar market
  • Make life easier for your accounts. Understand the challenges and requirements of accounts by channel and offer support. Be a friend to the distributors, specialty accounts and the chains that are open to your product
  • Demonstrate a commitment to building a brand and sales for key accounts. Test, learn and succeed
  • Have a plan to scale and win. It’s not enough to get product on shelf. Planning for success means building the brand with retailer support over the long term.

When your pet brand makes an effort to be different, relevant and exciting to consumers, everyone wins.  Learning on the path to building your business the right way engages the consumer and turns them into loyal brand and retailer shoppers.  And, when pets are people too, you think like traditional CPG companies and treat your brand as the prime asset to scale and grow with consumers and retailers.