The pet care category has been a stable, established and profitable sector for UK supermarkets, Coops and convenience store chains for decades. It has been driven since the 1960s by big multinational brands that are heavyweight TV advertisers, with big budget ad campaigns for dog, cat and even budgie food that have passed into popular culture.
That was then. At the moment UK purchases of pet care products are going through a period of transition, in line with the channels that sell them in our omnichannel era. It’s a situation that offers larger supermarkets the chance to grow their share of pet foods and accessories.
Pet owners typically decide which pet food products to buy as part of their planned grocery shop before they get to their local store. Price and on pack promotions in store are very effective in terms of brand switching and stimulating extra purchases. But when it comes to pet accessories, there is plenty of scope for generating sales with engaging displays at the point of purchase.
Larger stores still provide the ideal setting for consumer education about different types of pet care but social media and digital have changed the game when it comes to pet brands building relationships with consumers. As they do when buying baby foods and accessories, consumers make a huge emotional investment in pet products and trust is paramount.
Looking ahead, the big pet care opportunity for multiple grocers is for more exotic pets such as fish. Mars for example has been long involved with dog food with Pedigree, but fish care is a more recent and exciting development for the business.
Non-food sales in larger stores are one of the bulwarks for larger supermarkets against growing competition from discounters and convenience stores, and pet care has a definite role to play in the non-food offering. Not only that, with traditional pet shops declining in numbers on our high streets, the remaining outlets for consumers to buy fish food and other accessories are either on-line or in garden centres and aquarium specialists. These places tend to be a trek away by car, and involve taking time out to make a special journey. But if the products are there in the supermarket for pet owners to see on their next visit, it’s an easy ‘shop’ and consumers will remember to come back to this part of the store next time.