The alphas of the pet food pack see e-commerce as an opportunity to boost sales by shortening the path to purchase, while also building connections with consumers to help inform them about dog and cat food. Mars Petcare, the highest-grossing pet food company worldwide, and second-ranked Nestlé Purina PetCare both have strategies to continue building their pet foods’ presence in cyberspace.
“E-commerce is a huge opportunity for Purina,” Nina Leigh Krueger, president of Nestle Purina PetCare, said. “It’s a great time to be a consumer. Technology has made it easier than ever before to discover brands, research and shop. For us, this means the path to purchase is shrinking."
Digitally enabled shopping has changed the game in terms of convenience, she said. Purina aims to ensure that their brands are available to consumers whenever and however they want to shop for them. As Purina invests in the online marketplace, the company looks across the entire value chain to evolve ways of working to win in this digital bazaar.
Mars also sees the internet as a prime way to deliver pet foods and treats straight to consumers’ doors.
“E-commerce has been a huge focus for us at Mars Petcare,” Aaron Benchoff, e-commerce customer development director for Mars Petcare North America, said. “We have a strong team of people who are focused on all aspects of the sales and digital marketing activities surrounding the growing e-commerce space, in order to help our brands succeed. We also work closely with the e-comm sites to make sure our brands have a strong presence on key online retailers, including Amazon and Chewy.”
Pet food shelf space versus digital retail websites
In traditional big-box, mass market or specialty pet food markets, pet food companies jockey for space on shelves. Getting a highly visible location and taking up as much shelf space with eye-catching packages helps drive sales. However, shelf space no longer matters when selling via online pet food retailers' websites. A particular pet food brand can easily get lost among the competitors, now that product diversity on Amazon.com rivals biodiversity in the Amazon basin. Yet, still some strategies for attracting customers’ attention remain the same.
"Just like we’ve done with in-store shelf space for many years, we’ve identified all the key attributes it takes to win on the digital shelf,” Benchoff said.
“Just like we’ve done with in-store shelf space for many years, we’ve identified all the key attributes it takes to win on the digital shelf,” Benchoff said. “One area of focus for the team is creating rich product content that’s highly relevant in search results across major consumer platforms. We’re also always innovating to address consumer needs with new products. For example, between 2017 and 2018, we’ve introduced the new Wild Frontier and Crave brands, which provide high-protein diets for pets, following the growing trend of humanization and ancestral feeding.
“In addition, we’re constantly assessing the effectiveness of our product packaging to capture the attention of consumers, whether they’re browsing store shelves or scrolling through their favorite e-retailer’s site. For example, we recently announced new packaging for our Nutro Ultra core dry dog food line. The new packaging includes an eye-catching visual of the brand’s exclusive blend of superfoods to quickly and easily communicate with consumers about the product’s high-quality ingredients.”
While e-commerce websites reduce the physical ability to see a pet food product, pet owners can easily see more about the ingredients and attributes of a certain dog or cat food by looking up information online. Unfortunately, that information may be less data than dross, as some websites exploit people’s lack of knowledge to sow fear. Even factual information may be dense and hard to understand for people who don’t spend all day considering thiamine concentrations or amino acid balances. That’s when a pet food company’s ability to use digital tools to communicate with pet owners becomes key.
“Consumers will do their research to really understand the purpose of each ingredient and formula, but it’s easy to fall for rumors and myths,” said Krueger. “That’s why at Purina, we continue to support consumers in their desire to understand the positive differences our foods can make in the lives of their pets.”
Connecting with consumers via e-commerce
Online shoppers may be sitting in their pajamas while lounging in bed. At the same time, they may be having more social interactions with each other and with pet food companies than if they were fully dressed and wandering the aisles of PetSmart or Mom’s Friendly Neighborhood Pet Shop. E-commerce provides the opportunity for pet food makers to communicate directly with consumers and convey the company’s ethos. For both Mars and Purina, that means an overall love of pets and concern for their well-being, both Krueger and Benchoff said.
“From a business standpoint, e-commerce is a big opportunity for the reasons noted above,” said Krueger. “As a company made up of thousands of pet lovers, our biggest opportunity is doing a better job of connecting with our consumers to show these pet owners who Purina is and what we stand for. We are people who absolutely love pets and want what is best for them so we can live long, healthy lives together. And at the end of every day, we want every pet to have a safe, loving home and nutritious food.”
“Mars Petcare has been delivering top-quality pet products for years, and we’re continuing to do so at all price tiers to ensure we can meet the needs of our customers,” said Benchoff. “Our products are expected to deliver the most value for pet parents, both online and off, and we’re continuing to listen to our consumers to provide them with new products to meet their needs.”