["Don't underestimate a convenient package.", "Novel product and packaging development is the key to not only attracting new consumers, but also plays an important role in continued brand loyalty."]

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), the top two ways that pet owners find new products for their furry companions are browsing store shelves and watching television advertisements. What does this mean to companies wishing to make an impact in the ever growing pet market? Novel product and packaging development is the key to not only attracting new consumers, but also plays an important role in continued brand loyalty.

Be bold 

Studies done by APPMA and other pet consumer organizations indicate that petfood packaging follows many of the same trends as packaging for human food products. Brand differentiation, brand enhancement and convenience rate highly with consumers when selecting a brand of food or pet care products, according to a recent report done by Weatherchem Corp. A package can really make or break a product in a market that is booming with new product introductions. With more than 700 new toys, treats and other pet-related products introduced alone in 2008 at the Global Pet Expo, making eye-catching, durable and downright imaginative packaging is becoming more crucial to selling petfood than ever.

"Innovative packaging will take advantage of the major trends we're seeing in the petfood market today and utilize these trends to make packaging pop on the store shelf," says Whitney Reichheld, product manager for Weatherchem. Reichheld cites the example of organic petfood. "Organic petfood is really popular, but there are so many lines of organic food that they all look the same due to the lack of inventive packaging."

So who manages to stand out from the pack? Castor & Pollux's Pet Organix created an "organic kit" that assembles organic treats and food into a neatly packed storage container with a handle for carrying. "This is innovative because it's a new way of packaging an item that is so often packaged exactly the same way by 20 other organic petfood companies," states Reichheld.

Innovation doesn't always have to be something new or unique, it may just satisfy a need that other petfood manufacturers have managed to overlook, Reichheld also points out. "Always try to identify the unmet needs of your consumers," she recommends. "The most innovative packaging will provide solutions to those needs."

Focus on fun 

A package will drive consumers to purchase a product and truly build loyalty for a particular brand if it is fun and easy to use with their pets. Ultimately, the pet is a fun part of the consumer's life and products that are enjoyable to use will be the bestsellers among pet owners, according to Reichheld.

It is essential that consumers have a positive experience with your brand the first time and the packaging is vital to making this happen. Pet owners are looking for their petfood packaging to communicate the following:

  • Is it a premium quality product? Capitalize on the natural/organic trend and let consumers know your product uses human-grade ingredients, pioneering supplements or holistic vitamins and minerals.
  • Where is it made? After last year's recalls, consumers are more concerned about where what their pet eats for dinner is coming from -Made in America labeling will get them to take second look.
  • Will it keep the product fresh? Resealable, convenient and reliable packaging satisfies pet owners faster than their pets can wag their tails or start to purr.
  • Will it be easy to store and use? Bulky, oversized bags are a thing of the past-think about stand-up pouches and compact tins or cans instead.
  • Is it fun? Packaging can make a petfood product more fun for the owner if it reflects a part of their personality or lifestyle.

Keep track of trends 

There are some major trends in the petfood market that influence the direction petfood packaging is taking. Take, for example, the humanization of companion animals; pets deserve products that are human-grade and packaging needs to communicate that premium quality message.

"Don't underestimate a convenient package," says Reichheld. "Consumers are on the go and will pay for a product that's easy to store and use." Fancy Feast Canned Food Variety Pack from Nestlé Purina takes advantage of this concept. The cans come in a cardboard box that have a handle for carrying and a dispensing chute that opens for easy access with just the tear of a strip. Additionally, the can itself has a pull-tag that eliminates the need for utensils, which makes serving the cat a gourmet meal simple and clean, according to the company.

Another example of packaging on trend is Natura Pet Products' EVO dog food line. Natura views packaging as one of the most important elements in consumer communication. In addition to the ingredient declaration and guranteed analysis, the packaging graphics and copy for the EVO packaging clearly communicate brand positioning, benefits to the dog's health and comprehensive feeding guidelines.

"With so many different petfoods to chose from, it has become increasingly difficult for retailers and their pet-owning customers to determine which petfoods are actually healthy' for their pets," says Amanda Hassler, PR for Natura. "We believe the way to help retailers sell our products is to share as much nutritional information as possible on each and every product package. This way, consumers know exactly what's in every bag."

Consumers are starting to read in detail the labels of their own food and this has definitely extended into their shopping habits for their pets. Consumers are also becoming more health savvy for themselves and this extends to their pets as well. Pet vitamins and nutritional foods are two of the fastest growing segments of our industry and packaging can help your brand stand out.