Successful pet food packaging redesigns connect with consumers

Pet food manufacturers hone in on the human-animal bond and consumer desires like sustainability when repackaging and rebranding their products.

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(Ivanko Brnjakovic | Fotolia.com)
(Ivanko Brnjakovic | Fotolia.com)

In today’s mature US pet food market, being able to stand out is key to success. With a glut of products to choose from on pet store shelves, consumers often make snap decisions based on what catches their eye — being the one who connects with them in those few seconds is vital.

“In independent pet, it’s really about standing out from the rest of the category,” said Michelle Higdon, executive chairman of Jones Natural Chews.

Customer connection: Telling a story

Jones is in the middle of a complete rebranding of its treat lines, from logo to packaging to messaging, with a high focus on telling a story that resonates with customers.

“We hadn’t had an update on packaging in over a decade,” said Higdon. “And so the first thing we did was take a look at our Country Butcher line.” The Jones family has a history in the US butcher profession that can be traced back 16 decades, according to the company, so conveying that connection via packaging was important during the rebranding. “We updated the packaging because it really wasn’t reflecting the quality of the product that we were delivering,” said Higdon. “The fact that is was US ingredients and US made was a bit hidden. It wasn’t bright and colorful so consumers could find it on the shelf — it wasn’t merchandizing well. We really just wanted to, in a visual, show the Jones story.”

The Country Butcher rebranding was completed and launched on March 1 to significant success.

“Since [the launch], we’ve more than doubled our business with other customers who’d seen the old packaging, loved the products and really wanted something more stylized that spoke to the modern consumer,” said Higdon.

Getting back to the company’s roots is also what Zuke’s focused on when creating new packaging for its treats. Based in Durango, Colorado, USA, with a founding built on the connection between human and pet, the company wanted to convey authenticity and companionship in its redesign.

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Zuke’s new packaging tells a story and gets back to the company’s Durango, Colorado roots. It also  places a high focus on sustainability, something Zuke’s customers have been asking for. | Courtesy Zuke’s 

“[The old packaging was] full gloss with a metalized layer and great lifestyle scenery art — a little cartoonish in a sense, but a great representation of how you can take your dog anywhere,” said David Rizzo, Zuke’s director of operations. “So the idea was we were trying to showcase that. And then we thought about our roots, and what really connects to our authentic story. We decided to take it back to a more natural look and feel that we had at the beginning. We used to have matte packaging and it was very simplified imagery on the front. But we decided to bring Durango back to help show where the brand has always been, why we’re there and why we love Durango. All the imagery is Durango people with their dogs who are Zuke’s supporters.”

So far, the response to the message has been positive, according to Rizzo.

“The response has been amazing, both in person and the feedback we’ve shared just with our distributor and retailer partners that we want to get information from,” said Rizzo. “Everyone recognizes the shift back to a more authentic Zuke’s. While everyone had gotten used to the old packaging, they’re more excited about the new packaging because it brings it back to our roots.”

What customers want: Convenience, fun and sustainability

Einstein Pets recently launched a 2-oz. bag of each of its signature dog treats in response to what the company was hearing from customers.

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Einstein Pets’ dog treats now come in 2-oz. bags called Juniors, targeting millennial desires for convenience and portability. | Courtesy Einstein Pets

“We’re launching the Juniors because the feedback we’ve gotten, really from a lot of the millennials, is that people wanted something on the go,” said Kelly Ison, president and CEO of Einstein. “Our target demographic has always been older and we realized that this was a great opportunity [to expand our reach]. So we created the 2-oz. bags, exact replicas of our 8-oz. bags, in the same six flavors. They have everything that our 8-oz. bags have — it’s just a ‘grab at the counter and take it with you’ product.”

So far, according to Ison, initial response to the smaller bags is positive.

“We’ve had a few people put it in their stores already, and it sold out within a week,” said Ison. “We’re doing well with how it’s selling and with how people are selling it. Because the goal is, it’s on the go, but it’s also how they’re using it. Use it in the toys, use it for interactivity. With this, you can do all that.

“We do find that it’s the millennials who are buying,” she said. “It’s tracking exactly how we hoped it would. We really wanted to keep it the same, to maintain consistency across our brand. It’s really important to stay in that lane of who you are and figure out how you can grow outside of that with your packaging.”

When Jones took on the rebranding of its larger treat line, Jones Natural Chews, the focus was about creating an aura of fun and happiness.

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Jones’ new packaging has clearer messaging as well as the new version of Rocky, playing off the brand’s most recognizable feature while updating the look and feel for today’s consumer. | Courtesy Jones Natural Chews

“We’ve been working on this for about six months,” said Higdon at SuperZoo 2017 at the end of July. “The brand has 30 years of heritage and we didn’t want to confuse consumers or retailers. So what we did first is study: What are the key tenets of the brand that consumers are attracted to or recognize? A lot of customers aren’t necessarily reading packaging. They see something and go, ‘oh, that’s my brand’, and they pick it up. And the visual cues, we found out, were the fuchsia pink and the yellow, the sawtooth and most importantly the yellow dog. What we learned was that they recognized the yellow dog but it wasn’t necessarily friendly. We wanted the package to emote a happy occasion and be attractive from that standpoint.”

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Jones Natural Chews is in the middle of a significant rebranding and packaging redesign, and the company’s well-known yellow dog, Rocky, has been updated to reflect a fun, friendly personality that resonates with customers. | Courtesy Jones Natural Chews

The company focused on the slogan “treat your dog to happiness” and launched the new look the week of SuperZoo, relying heavily on social media to convey the company’s revamped message.

“We’re pretty active in getting that message out there and getting it changed over,” said Higdon. “We have bloggers who write about us and this is the first step for us.”

The other key component of Zuke’s new packaging was more technical: sustainability.

“We partnered with the Pet Sustainability Coalition as well as Excel packaging, who’s been our packaging provider for probably 20 years now,” said Rizzo. “Basically, what we did is we were going to revamp the whole line, and we said, well, how can we bring in a more sustainable aspect surrounding our current packaging? We looked at it from multiple angles: reducing the size of the packaging, what kind of recyclable barriers or films out there are being used or are available at this point in time, etc.”

Zuke’s decided on a multi-phase approach with a focus on reduction in its first phase.

 “We took our entire packaging line and reduced it by approximately 20 percent when you look at dimensional size on average across — some of the bags changed very little, some of them changed dramatically,” said Rizzo. “That plays into restructuring all of our corrugate that the domestic cartons are made out of — less corrugate use, which means more products on a pallet, less pallets for transportation, so on and so forth.”

Among the initial environmental impact data from the redesign: a 9 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, a 12 percent reduction in water use and a 17 percent reduction in biodiversity impact.

“We’ve seen a 7.5 percent overall waste decrease just from this initial phase,” said Rizzo. “So that was the really exciting part. Sustainability has been a core value of ours for a long time. But as you go through all these stages of growth and acquisition, sometimes that direct work to doing so isn’t committed as heavily as you’d want to. So it’s an opportunity for us to start showing what a core value it is and ramping up that program, which is really exciting.”

Continued refinement and knowing when to say ‘when’

Each company has further goals for its new packaging. Einstein plans to continue expanding its business and reaching new customers with its fun-sized packaging. Jones is still phasing out its old packaging and logo while maintaining customer communication throughout the transition. Zuke’s hopes to implement a recyclable barrier in Phase 2 of its packaging redesign. The work is never really done.

“I’ve gone through packaging refreshes, new packaging development, new brand development,” said Higdon. “Every time, no matter how much you plan, no matter what process you use, it’s like giving birth: very painful. You always think it’s not going to be, because this time you’re going to have enough time, but you never do. And it’s hard to say when is when, but you have to draw that line.”

 

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