Despite this temporary setback, the category continues to grow. New pet food brands are being introduced into the market by both small and large manufacturers. And make no mistake, there are some very big company players in the pet food brand game.
Mars Petcare is the top dog in cat and dog food brands worldwide, according to Pet Food Industry. (Yes, this is the same Mars that makes M&Ms, Snickers, and Skittles candies.) Mars owns such leading brands as Pedigree (dogs), Cesar (cats), and Whiskas (cats). Mars also owns Doane Pet Care, the largest manufacturer of private label cat and dog food in the United States and Europe.
Mars’ 2007 introduction of The Goodlife Recipe Brand was its largest pet food brand launch at the time, trading on consumer interest in “all natural” ingredients as a means to market cat and dog food. In 2008, Mars created an even bolder breakthrough brand unique in the dog food category—WholeMeals.
Traditionally, dog food brands have been packaged in bags, boxes, or cans. WholeMeals breaks convention because it is a meal packaged in the form of a bone. Working with dog behaviorists and veterinarians, Mars created what it believes is a revolutionary method of feeding dogs their food. The company says the WholeMeals brand provides “premium nutrition” as well as “advanced oral care” and results in “natural feeding enjoyment.”
WholeMeals is one example of how companies differentiate their brands in the cat and dog food marketplace. Recent trends show this brand category moving ever more closely toward food that looks almost fit for human consumption. Mars’ Cesar brand dog food offers the “Original Paté” menu or the “Gourmet Fillets in Sauce” menu for small dogs. Both lines are packaged in special self-contained feeding trays.
Second only to Mars in worldwide cat and dog food sales is Nestlé Purina PetCare. Purina’s Fancy Feast brand for cats goes even further than Mars’ Cesar brand with the recently introduced “Elegant Medleys: Restaurant Inspired Food for Cats.” Supported by a television ad that shows a meal prepared by a chef and then being fed to a cat by its owner, Elegant Medleys are “inspired by the traditional tastes of Tuscany,” featuring “old world flavors balanced with modern sophistication,” according to Purina.
Also on the Top Ten pet food manufacturers list is Affinity Petcare (number 6), headquartered in Barcelona, Spain. Affinity sells such brands as Affinity, Ultima, Brekkies, and Advance throughout Europe. Tokyo-based Unicharm Pet Care (number 8) is Japan’s leading pet food producer. Its top brands include Aiken Genki Gin no Sara, Neko-Genki Silver Spoon, and Gaines Pakken.
Pet food offers opportunities for branding tie-ins as well. For example, Cesar Millan, star of the popular television show, “The Dog Whisperer” (National Geographic Channel), will be introducing DOG WHISPERER brand pet food this month, July 2008.
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of pet food branding is that the real “consumer” of the product couldn’t care less about the brand. If they’re hungry, cats and dogs will likely eat whatever they are given (finicky cats notwithstanding). Granted, they may be able to distinguish one food from another, but they certainly can’t distinguish the marketing aspects of brands… as far as we know.
Of course, the reality is that the branding of cat and dog food, which sometimes reaches ridiculous heights, is intended to appeal to the intermediaries—the humans who own and feed these pampered pets.
But hold on to your leash—branded products for pets go much further than food. In Japan, the latest sensation is canine fashion. “Pet Fashion Week,” held in Tokyo in January 2008, featured dog models strutting their stuff on runways. According to organizer Pet Fashion Week NY, “eighteen selected pet apparel and accessory designers presented demi-couture collections to an audience of over 3,000 pet fashion enthusiasts.”
Why are the Japanese dressing up their dogs? Some experts say that the country’s aging population and declining birth rate are combining to make dogs all the more precious in that society. Euromonitor says the “humanization of pets” is responsible for growth in Japan’s dog-related brands.