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For Fido and friends, it’s no longer a dog’s breakfast

It’s big business feeding man’s best friend. Here’s how grocers can get a piece of the pet food pie

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Wander through any specialty pet store and you’ll find aisle after aisle of premium pet food with people-food-like claims: antioxidants, grain-free, natural and organic. Same goes for the accessories aisles: from designer dog baskets to hair barrettes and crystal poop bag holders.

The “humanization” of pets is the biggest trend in the pet industry today and it’s big business.

“Pets are perceived as family members more so than ever,” says Susan Dankert of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada.

Nearly one in two households owns a pet and Agriculture Canada forecasts dog food sales to grow 9.5 per cent, to $1.1 billion, between this year and 2015. That’s just a percentage point less than the last three years.

Cat food sales, meanwhile will rise 9.7 per cent, to $737.5 million, by 2015–identical to growth of the last three years.

Most of those sales won’t go through specialty pet stores, either. Grocery stores, mass merchants and discount stores take in nearly three out of every four dollars spent on commercial dog and cat food in Canada.

A lingering recession might help, not hurt, those sales, too. In a recent report, Consumer Trends: Pet Food in Canada, Agriculture Canada noted that cat and dog owners bought more in bulk to save money during the recession, which helped discount grocery stores in particular gain market share in dog food.

But grocers can still do more to become a destination spot for pet food, such as:

Think pet nutrition. Humans are getting fatter. So are our pets and that’s driving up demand for weight management food as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis among the Rovers and Cocos of the nation become more common. Consumers want premium brands that offer organic and holistic choices, says Dankert.

It’s not all going to the dogs. Slightly more homes (35 per cent) have a cat than do a dog (32 per cent). But the real point to remember is how these cats spend their days. Sixty-eight per cent are indoor cats, says Mark Pacan, category and shopper insights director for Nestle Purina Pet Care.

So products aimed at indoor cats are catching on. Purina Cat Chow indoor formula, for example, helps with weight management with fewer calories and extra fibre for less-active, indoor cats.

Pounce on pet treats. Cat and dog treats are pure incremental sales, says Nestle’s Pacan. “Selling more treats does not mean any less food sales,” he says. Dog treats and mixers had the greatest volume growth in Canada’s dog food/treat industry, up 14.8 per cent from 2005 to 2010, according to Pet Food in Canada.

Be a destination. Many pet owners care about pet causes, too. So why not get involved with them? Chanelle Dupre, director of marketing for B.C.’s Bosley’s Pet Food, says part of the reason the company has grown to 46 stores from 23 in two years is because it is community-focused.

The chain raises funds for local animal shelters and gives “pet parents” everything they want, from hard-to-get holistic brands to dog training and socialization courses, pet nutrition sessions and regular product sampling.

Bring on the bling. Younger pet owners see their pets as a reflection of themselves. The result has been an explosion in fashionista for Fluffys and Fidos, says Dankert.

“Bling for your pet has gotten pretty wild, everything from cat coats and leashes to dog jewelry and nail polish.” There’s even something called doggles: sunglasses for dogs. It appears, the pet market is brighter than you think.

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