If human trends are any indication of what to expect in pet products, mature pet food markets like the US may be in for some significant shifts as new products sync up with busy consumer lifestyles. According to Simmons Market Research Bureau consumer survey data, almost two-thirds of American adults are trying to eat healthier foods these days, although this often dictates compromises (Table 1).
Narrowing the survey responses to dog and cat owners, the results remain remarkably similar, signaling an emerging trend Packaged Facts believes will begin to reshape the US market in 2008.
Fueling the craze
This trend is analyzed in depth in Packaged Facts' February 2007 report, Pet Food Packaging and Convenience Trends , which notes, "Several factors are converging to create dynamic opportunities for convenience, travel and portable products." These include:
- Increasing time constraints among pet owners;
- A tendency to seek out human-style pet products;
- The aging pet population (which increases the need for healthier products); and
- The high level of new product development.
Also fueling the convenience craze is the trend for pet owners to allow their pets to accompany them outside the home, venturing far beyond the parameters of the usual around-the-block walk.
What's different is that pet food convenience is no longer just about products that are easy-open, resealable or single-serve. Take SmartPak, which started out in the equine market with controlled-dosing, peel-off-top, blister-pack technology. The company has expanded into canine supplements and complete diets, providing pre-measured dog food along with medications and supplements, with customized packs being home-delivered to dog owners every 28 days. Prior to making the monthly shipment, the company E-mails the pet owner to check on portion sizes and supplement specifications (among 300). Soon to be available for cats, the service costs about US$1.48 per day to feed a 20-pound dog.
Going a different route is Jakks Pacific. By licensing popular pet food brand names like Milk-Bone and Meow Mix, Jakks has made a name for itself by extending those brands into non-food pet supplies.
In late 2007, the company made its first direct push into pet food, parlaying its licensing deal with the American Kennel Club into AKC-brand Natural Pet Baked Travel Convenience Meals. Packed in "fresh sealed containers for everyday convenience," the products come with ready-to-use serving bowls.
Big convenience news
The biggest news in convenience foods for pets may be what Mars is calling a third feeding method. Developed through the company's Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and launched in the US in February, WholeMeals are promoted as the first 100% balanced adult dog meal shaped like a bone, also offering clinically proven oral care benefits and trendy ingredients like antioxidants and glucosamine. It is being sold exclusively through the pet specialty channel.
Interestingly, in its marketing Mars makes no mention of WholeMeals' convenience appeal, which may be the product's biggest ace in the hole. What could be more convenient than a pet food that eliminates the need for a bowl?