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Pet Food Report: Gone to the Dogs

A member of the family–that’s how pets are viewed today in a market that’s worth $2.7 billion. So it’s no surprise that many companies now offer pet food that resembles what’s on our tables. “Food for dogs is becoming increasingly more humanized, with meals being similar to what a human would consume,” notes Innova Market Insights, a Dutch market research firm, in a report issued last December.

Nestlé Purina PetCare Canada is among many companies paying attention to this trend. “[Our] Purina One dog food features an innovative new kibble, which we refer to as a tender meaty morsel that not only is tasty for dogs, but is visually appealing to owners,” says Purina’s Jenine LaFayette. Loblaw’s President’s Choice is another brand offering pet food with “human” ingredients. Its canned PC Nutrition First dog food contains not only chicken and rice but also red peppers and bananas.

What else matters in catering to pets these days? How about size. A survey commissioned by Mars Canada for its Cesar brand found that more than half of Canadians share an especially close connection with small dogs. “Canadians treat their special companion like a person,” notes Crystal Caughill, Cesar’s senior brand manager. Eighty per cent of survey participants allow their dogs on the furniture, while more than 60 per cent celebrate holidays with gifts for their small dog. Caughill says new Cesar Bistro “allows small-dog owners to further that special connection by providing meals that are similar to the same type of meal that they would cook for themselves.”

Pet food trends:

*  A food for every stage of life
*  Natural ingredients
*  Grain-free foods
*  Local and sustainable foods

As might be expected, the same trends showing up in human meals–higher quality and natural ingredients–are also making their way into Fido’s dinners. “The first ingredient in Iams Premium Protection adult formula for dogs is highly refined, nutrient-rich chicken byproduct meal, which is an excellent source of protein,” says Lesley Luce at Procter & Gamble. Consumers seem to spare no expense on the quality of pet food. “They are looking for high-end, even organic pet food,” says Robert Ryniak, grocery manager of Summerhill Market, an upscale grocer in Toronto. “Eighty per cent of our sales is a holistic blend dog food, and most of the rest is Cesar and Fancy Feast for cats.”

Pet food is also moving beyond recognizable meal ingredients to contain so-called functional ingredients that offer an added kick of health. For example, Purina One products contain higher levels of antioxidants and omega fatty acids. Pet owners are familiar with these terms as it relates to their foods, says LaFayette.

Individualization is another key trend in pet food. A wide range of products now on the market are designed to meet many specific needs that pets have and more will make their way onto store shelves. Innova expects to see, for example, more ingredients that target weight management, especially beneficial for pets kept in apartments with little opportunities for exercise. “We humans tailor our nutrition for different life stages,” says Luce. Pet owners are trying to do the same for their dogs and cats as well.

Take Iams Premium Protection for cats and dogs. It has customized nutrition for puppies, kittens, adult pets and senior pets. The adult dog formulation has betacarotene for an improved immune system as well as glucosamine for joint protection. The senior formulation has L-carnitine to help older dogs burn fat. Purina, meanwhile has just released two new additions to the Beneful dog food brand: Beneful IncrediBites for small dogs and Beneful Playful Life for active dogs. Indeed, as consumers become more aware of healthy options in their food, it will continue to spill over into their pet’s meals.

Top 3 Merchandising Tips

1. Provide a big selection of pet products. But don’t go overboard. Remember that people who buy the super premium dog food will shop at the pet food store or buy food through their veterinarian. That leaves the choosey and the not so choosey as your customers.

2. Be competitive with pricing. Ross Bletsoe, owner of Lakefield IGA in Ontario, says he always advertises the value of large bags because it drives up sales. “We also offer a very competitive price on our own Signal brand.”

3. Promote green initiatives. Knowing that consumers are trying to make small changes in their efforts to be more green, Purina launched a promotion last year called Paws for the Planet. The company shares pet-friendly green tips to encourage pet owners to reduce their impact on the environment.

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