Australia has always been a nation that loves pets, but over the past two years, largely due to the pandemic we have seen a massive uptick in pet ownership. New data shows that 69 per cent of households now own a pet, making Australia the second largest pet owning nation in the world.

The research by Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) revealed that over the course of the pandemic there has been more than two million pets adopted, with many people now working or spending more time at home they’ve been provided with the opportunity to properly care for a new addition to the family.

This boom in pet ownership means significant growth for the pet care category, the AMA research found that on average dog owners spend $3,200 per year while cat owners spend $2,100, bringing the total spend for dog and cat owners nationally to $20.5 billion and $10.2 billion respectively.

The growth of the industry means there is significant opportunity for brands and retailers to move away from the traditional avenues of specialist pet stores and supermarkets and begin stocking product in the petrol and convenience (P&C) channel.

Raining cats and dogs!

Over the past 18 months with more people spending time at home, there has been a shift in purchasing behaviour as consumers start to impulse buy products for their pets.

Nestlé Purina, one of Australia’s largest pet care brands, said it has noticed an increase in sales across the impulse channel and has altered its product range to cater for this shift.

“To deliver to Purina’s objective of driving growth across the pet care category by providing more choice and increasing accessibility of our strong performing brands, we’ve focused on our product ranges for smaller format and independent convenience retailers,” Nestlé Purina stated.

Nestlé Purina currently stocks a range of pet foods and treats across the sector including cat food brands Fancy Feast, Friskies, and Felix, dog food brand Supercoat, and dog treat range Lucky Bones.

The updated product range optimised specifically for the P&C channel includes smaller pack sizes for the impulse shopper and single serve options opposed to multi-serve options that correlates to purchase behaviour.

Fancy Feast is one of Purina’s largest brands, bringing in $134 million in sales to Australian grocery in the latest MAT and continues to experience double digit growth, with 90 per cent of those sales from Fancy Feast’s Classic Wet Cat range.

“Shoppers are increasingly moving to single-serve Wet Food in both dog and cat, with single-serve Wet Cat now nearly 90 per cent of value sales, so it is important to have strong representation of single-serve rather than multi-serve.”

A new brand that has seen success in the channel is human-grade pet treat company Doggylicious, producer of dog cookies and dog peanut butter, with its five variants of cookies – Probiotic, Rainbow, Calming, Protein, and Hip, Joint and Coat – currently stocked in 65 OTR convenience stores across South Australia.

Ben Whyatt, Doggylicious Founder, believes stocking pet care products across the P&C channel is a no-brainer.

“I think OTR were the first to put pet treats and pet care in their stores, which makes perfect sense as half the time dogs are travelling in the car with their owners, so there’s a whole new customer that P&C gives us that we were not previously tapping into.”

Darach de Búrca, Portfolio Marketing Director Care and Treats at Mars Petcare, said they believe that up to 70 per cent of care and treat purchases are impulse or unplanned and that there is huge opportunity to increase the physical availability of the products.

“Consumers have more choices than ever on where and how they get their groceries. We want to make sure that our brands are available to pet parents whenever they need them, and the 24-hour availability of the P&C channel can be a lifesaver if you realise your fussy cat is out of Whiskas at 7am.”

Mars Petcare is the producer of more than 50 pet brands such as Pedigree, Whiskas, and Royal Canin, and due to the pet population boom brought on by COVID-19, its care and treats category has seen sustained growth over the past two years, which de Búrca suggests shows that we’re snacking with our pets while working from home.

Part of the family

The time spent at home has seen pet owners form a closer bond with their pets and an increased desire to share experiences with them. With consumers now paying closer attention to their own health and the wellbeing of the planet, the pet care category has seen these habits become part of what owners look for when purchasing products for their pets.

“We’ve noticed that as we’re paying closer attention to our own health, we’re also increasingly examining what’s in our pets’ bowls. Pet parents are looking for products they see as fresh and healthy; that utilise strong scientific claims; and those that are doing the right thing when it comes to sustainability,” said de Búrca.

The trend of shoppers paying closer attention to their pet’s diets has been noted by Nestlé Purina which has now, in the P&C channel, increased focus on minimal artificial additions, fewer and locally sourced ingredients, and the inclusion of superfoods and probiotics.

“Shoppers are seeking unique and specific nutritional products for their pets. Forty-seven per cent of pet owners have experienced health issues with their pet driving a greater need for more tailored pet nutrition they trust.”

Nestlé Purina said its fastest growing category is the Pet Treat range, which is its second largest contributor to Pet Care growth, which aligns with the company’s research that 70 per cent of Australians described their pet as a beloved member of the family.

“Owners are seeking more opportunities to bond with and spoil their pets. These shoppers are willing to spend more on premium and high-quality food and treats to enable this,” said Nestlé Purina.

Within this category, the best performing treat is Lucky Dog Bones Originals 800g, which is also the top performing SKU in the Dog Treat snack segment, highlighting owners’ desires to indulge their pet as if they were a family member.

Whyatt from Doggylicious, agrees that the humanisation of pets is a growing trend, and recently capitalised on this mindset by producing a range of Easter eggs for dogs over the Easter period.

“We were looking at what a human is after and how can we let them share that experience with their dog. So over Easter we produced an Easter egg pack, which was really responsive, because when your dog is happy, everyone seems happy.”

A convenient purr-chase

The introduction of pet care products in the P&C sector is a relatively new development and retailers must learn to adapt to this change to incorporate the category as part of their retail offer. As pet care is traditionally a planned purchase in grocery, it becomes less planned within the P&C channel, so it is important to disrupt the shopper at time of purchase and remind them of the offering.

Whyatt from Doggylicious, said OTR has done a great job in ensuring consumers are aware of the brands products as they enter the store.

“OTR has signs on the floor and a doggy station, they’ve made it really clear that dogs are welcome and that dogs are catered for in their store, so if your dog is in the car, you might just want to get it a little treat.”

Nestlé Purina agrees with this sentiment and believes positioning pet treats near the middle of the planogram will interrupt shoppers and encourage cross purchasing of main meals and treats.

The company also offered some general planogram principles for retailers to keep in mind when stocking pet care products, which include clustering animal groups – cat and dog – separately to aid in shopper navigation, ensuring a fair share of the shelf is given to each sub-category, and ensure a better best flow up into the higher dollar per kg brands.

The influx of pets over the past two years means the demand for pet care products is not slowing down and the opportunity to capitalise on this growing market is evident to Mars Petcare, which sees the opportunity to expand. 

“There’s a great opportunity to embrace the high growth beyond traditional channels such as online, specialty and subscription. The P&C category is highly expandable, so there is a huge opportunity to increase the physical availability of these products,” said Mars Petcare’s de Búrca.

This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.

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