Pets are people too: Opportunity in the pet food market
It’s a shame that so many brand and product teams tend to shy away from entry into already crowded marketplaces. Because crowds usually follow the action — in this case, the dollars. Likewise, crowds often look remarkably similar as they grow, especially when viewed from far above.
So what better place to launch your innovation than in a sizable marketplace filled with lots of “me too” competitors?
We believe one such marketplace screaming for innovation is the “natural” or “healthy” pet food arena. In fact, those terms are in quotes precisely because the marketplace has grown so big and all-encompassing that no single label can adequately describe it.
And yet, as big as this marketplace is, it is shocking how homogeneous its contenders are.
Almost all of the pet food brands in this space rely on some combination of the following:
- The use of the words “nature,” “natural” or “health” in their names or taglines. Everyone in this business recognizes those words no longer have much — if any — relevance with regard to people food. Why should pet food be any different?
- Photographic imagery of animals on the labels. The overall look and feel is more sober and serious than aspirational and playful. Yes, the photo of the dog or cat is cute, but only in the same way that a photo of a toddler would be on a juice box.
- Labels like “formula” or “nutrition” or “balance” on the front packaging. Companies are currently busy rethinking such literal connotations for people food. Why step backward when it comes to pets?
- The prominent use of ingredient decks and nutrition claims on front packaging. Is this real food or a collection of ingredients, some thought to be healthier than others?
In other words, while we’ve all been busy transitioning the world of healthy and natural products to meet contemporary expectations of higher-quality food experiences, it’s as if the natural pet food category got left behind.
While it is surely true that the ingredients and food preparations in this category have evolved beyond their traditional competition in mass and grocery, are brands really content to stop innovating there?
Now consider something a bit less conventional. A pet food that distances itself from the pack (so to speak).
We know that contemporary health and wellness consumers seek out more engaging, playful experiences with reimagined ideas of what constitutes quality. CrossFit, local ice cream and wild salmon — great. Lifting weights, wheatgrass juice and omega supplements — not so much.
So it only follows that the same should be true for pet food, no?
Tiki Cat & Dog food is a great example of a brand doing all the right things to play in this space:
- The playful brand name demonstrates more evolved notions of health embedded in higher-quality experiences. Now caring for one’s pet is as fun for the companion as it is healthy for the pet.
- It activates ideas of health and wellness via contemporary redefinitions of high-quality food experiences. Make no mistake, this is people food for our little ones.
- There is a timeless, iconicity in these whimsical sketches of dogs and cats.
- It shows understanding of quality distinctions in the broader food world (e.g., wild caught).
Honestly, for anyone with even tangential connections to product brand innovation, the cat and dog imagery alone should serve as a powerful reminder of how dull and lifeless pet food marketing has become.
So far, we’ve referenced only what many would refer to as niche-market brands. What about something more mainstream? What lessons might we learn from their innovation efforts?
We believe Purina has done a great job of understanding the connection between people and their pets in today’s health, wellness and food arenas. Its line of “broths” released under the Fancy Feast imprint appears every bit as appetizing — in substance, word and print — as what we might serve our spouse — albeit with different potential outcomes.
As the image here makes clear, this is a great food product that stands on its own, with no need for health- or nutrition-based claims.
Meat, seafood, vegetables, grains and broth. And man, does it look good.