The pet food segment of our industry has been seeing historic gains, with the COVID-related supply chain issues barely making a dent in the continually burgeoning pet industry at large. With these continual increases, savvy retailers would certainly do well to utilize the focus on pet food to better access their customers’ needs and wants, ensuring continued repeat customers for years to come.
But first, let’s look at exactly what these trends are telling us. Lorraine Mackiewicz, a senior consultant for Clarkston Consulting, summarized her firm’s findings in a 2021 survey of pet food trends. While the firm’s findings hinge significantly upon the ‘humanization” of pets by younger adult generations, several statistical trends stood out in their research.
“Foods with fresh ingredients, superfoods, whole grain and high protein… have caught on,” noted Mackiewicz. “It’s no surprise that many of these diet trends mirror similar food trends.”
Just as we seek to eat healthier and find new ways to enhance our own diet, a majority of pet owners have shown to be “open to new types of food” including refrigerated and fresh-made food. Mackiewicz even notes that Purina has recently released a Fancy Feast-branded cookbook (meant for humans) that is inspired by their own product line.
However, just as health concerns factor into pet ownership and purchasing trends, Clarkston’s research found an increased emphasis on sustainability and ecological stewardship, with new pet owners greatly favoring recyclable packaging and companies that put forward efforts towards holistic health and corporate responsibility. New pet owners show a statistically significant bend towards brands that do these things, showing a willingness to pay more for food from a company that reflects their own values.
As a retailer, how do you best take advantage of these trends? The first and simplest solution is to simply provide options. The more varieties of food – the more price points, brands and selections that you can offer – the more likely that a customer will be able to find a product that best serves their pet and their personal tastes in purchasing. While maintaining a vast variety of pet foods can be difficult, given the current supply-chain situation, ensuring that you have a steady stream of your best-selling products keeps reliable customers coming back time and time again.
Concurrent with this, consider establishing a segment of your store’s shelves focusing on “premium” products, which might include all-natural, gluten-free or other holistically designed pet foods. Be sure that your staff is well educated about the benefits of these foods, and how animals can be best served by these foods over cheaper, less-conscientiously produced products. Your staff’s ability to upsell these sorts of products, from an educated, discerning viewpoint, can make the difference between a $10 sale each week and a $50 sale each week. If we can physically demonstrate that we care about animals (as we do), pet owners respond in kind – after all, it’s their family we’re providing for.
Part of that educational process stems from sharing the information in ways that make it easy to understand for even a first-time pet owner. Consider accompanying your food displays with informational items or care sheets that they can take away, delineating often-used terms on pet food containers or explaining the benefits of various foods for a given animal population. You might include a rack of pamphlets about pet aging and relevant supplements next to foods best suited to an aging pet population. And, vice versa, include special recommendations for younger pets near that relevant section of an aisle. This variety of leaflets can serve as a sort of passive education for your customers, allowing your staff to make recommendations sight unseen and boosting sales towards more premium items that result in healthier pets overall.
While no store can ever possibly provide the sheer volume of options from certain online services, being able to provide a solid variety of food possibilities alongside an educated staff and plenty of easy-to-digest information will ensure that a one-time customer becomes a repeat customer. Those repeat customers easily can become the backbone of your store’s revenue stream for years to come.
John Mack is the founder and CEO of Reptiles by Mack. He is also the chair of the PIJAC board of directors and is on the PIJAC Zoonosis Committee. His Ohio-based company is widely recognized as one of the largest reptile breeders and suppliers in the USA today.