The heavily saturated additives and artificial flavors of the nineties are gone. Healthy eating has hit the mainstream and by all accounts, is here to stay. In a recent survey of 1,000 Good Housekeeping readers, 91 percent said, “If I eat right, I will probably stay healthy.”*
It may come as no surprise that the health food movement for humans has also expanded into the pet food industry. This is part of a humanization trend. The health conscious owners want to provide the same dietary nutrition to their four-legged friends.
Seeing this as an opportunity, pet food brands have embraced the change. They’ve updated their ingredients in regular lines and introduced premium, and in some cases, super premium options. They are right to do so. By the end of this year, premium pet foods will account for 42 percent of pet food sales, followed by regular pet food at 30 percent, and value pet food at 12 percent. When you compare these percentages to the $28 billion in pet food sales for 2013 alone and the estimated $33 billion sales pet food will have by 2018, it is clear their decisions were advantageous.**
Now, when a pet owner enters a retail location, they have the choice of real meat, grain-free, fruits and vegetables, vitamin enriched, and combinations of the above to feed their furry friends. Even treat lines, the long believed unhealthiest of animal offerings, have gotten a makeover. Besides being a reward, the new and improved bite sized treats are now supplemental to a pet’s overall health.
Wellness CORE recently introduced SuperFood Protein Bars, a nutrient-dense protein nugget without fillers or grain, and wholesome superfoods. It has already won the 2014 Editor’s Choice Award for Best Pet Food/Treat by SupplySide.***When a brand such as Wellness introduces their newest product to the saturated pet food/treat industry, they must leverage their brand and market it in order to succeed. Most pet owners can tell you that pet food, whether wet or dry, is nothing to look at. Unlike a head of lettuce, or an apple, pet food is not capable of selling itself. So how does a brand communicate the great benefits of its product when pet food shoppers have limited time to research brands and make purchase decisions?
When executed well, packaging targets a specific demographic, communicates the product benefits, and has a design and color palette that matches the product while unifying the brand.
Know the Demographic
Unfortunately, pets have yet to grow opposable thumbs and learn the monotonous task of buying their own food, leaving the purchasing power to their human companions. There are two variables a pet food brand must consider when leveraging their brand to new categories and varieties. These variables also have a direct influence over the packaging.
Firstly, the pet food is being marketed to the owner. What is the owner’s lifestyle? Are they willing to pay more for the added benefits and nutrition to their animals’ food? Do they shop at large box stores or small pet specialty locations? Are they brand loyal? If they are, would they be less brand loyal with treats and consider other options?
Secondly, the packaging must market to the animal that is consuming the product. What is the animal’s age? Is it active or inactive? Does it need to eat diet food? Does it have a restricted diet from food intolerances or sensitivities? Will it eat dry or wet food, or possibly a mixture of both? It is a large or small breed?
Wellness Complete Health offers balanced natural nutrition and overall health for canines and felines. From puppies and kittens to senior pets, and those with joint to digestive problems, there is a food catered to them. This specificity to the animal’s health and wellness needs helps elevate the premium quality of the brand.Communicate the Benefits
Having a great product is important. Knowing how to communicate this to the customer is equally important.
For a time sensitive shopper in today’s fast paced world, packaging is the primary marketing tool to communicate all the pet food benefits. It is important to make the benefits easy to find and read.
When Wellness introduced the CORE Grain Free line of pet food, they used a benefit checklist on the face of the package like many of their other lines. The checklist offers the customer immediate information on nutrients and ingredients within the product. It is a great tool to educate a shopper in the time it takes to browse a shelf.
In pet food, a product line may be segmented by flavor, texture (soft and chewy, hard and crunchy), or category. Packaging must connect the overarching brand to these varying product options.
If a product line has multiple flavor offerings, a brand can utilize color to differentiate flavors. For example, Beef may be red while Salmon is blue and Lamb is green. In regard to texture, a brand can use different structures such as a box for crunchy treats compared to a re-sealable bag for fresh, chewy treats. For different categories such as cat and dog, or senior dog and puppy, the packaging can be differentiated by both size and structure.
Through all these decisions, the design must remain consistent. To accomplish this, packaging employs brand blocking. Maintaining a design across SKUs, the brand block can use color, type, icons, or logo to create consistency on shelf. Wellness has a reputation for their strong use of brand blocking.
For example the Simple line, created for dogs with food sensitivities, uses a blue color, icon of a dog, bright type, and the recognizable Wellness logo to maintain brand identity at shelf, whether in can or bag form. A color band at the bottom of the structures communicates the different flavor varieties. If a customer walks down an aisle, they will easily be able to distinguish the Simple line by its consistent identity across SKUs.
With expected sales to reach $33 billion by 2018, pet food brands must seize this time sensitive opportunity to expand and grow. If current trends in health and wellness are anything to go by, the premium and super premium pet food lines will offer the greatest ROI. However, for brands to truly succeed they must strategically focus on their product as much as their packaging by knowing the demographic, communicating the benefits, and maintaining design consistency across the line.
[Disclosure: All Wellness Brand packaging used in this article was designed by Hughes Design Group]