The dog bowl category is getting hotter and hotter as manufacturers launch creative, functional solutions that add excitement to the shelves and good rings at the register.
It might seem that dog bowls make for a pretty straightforward category—perhaps even a little boring—but manufacturers are energizing the category by offering a vast variety of dog feeding and water bowls that can help jazz up a store’s assortment, merchandising and sales.
Bowl manufacturers are expending all manner of creativity on bowls designed to satisfy the inclinations or desires of today’s most discerning pet owners. The result has been a plethora of colors, designs, materials and features, making it virtually impossible that customers on the hunt for such items will walk away empty handed.
Adding to this category’s appeal is the fact that not only is pet ownership on the rise, it is also common for dog-owning households to have two or more dogs. According to the 2013-2014 American Pet Product Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, over 11 million households have two or more dogs—20 percent of nearly 57 million dog-owning households. About six percent owned three or more dogs.
That adds up to a lot of bowls, especially since each dog will typically have its own designated food and water bowl. Consequently, it is worthwhile for retailers to pay attention to this category and to the trends that can help shape the inventory they offer.
One of the most significant influences on the category is fashion and interior design. According to Gretchen George, president of PetRageous Designs, LTD, located in Burlington, Mass., the impact of design on the category has been huge. “The color gray is a hot trend in the home market, so we’re developing more bowls to coordinate with gray palettes,” George says. “The Jonathan Adler look is a popular trend. We reuse these patterns and adjust colors to go with the different seasons.”
George says consumers are looking for bowls that coordinate with their home décor and complement the type of dog they own. For example, animal prints are popular with those who have small dogs, but not so much for owners of large-breed dogs, who tend to favor more basic patterns and neutral colors.
Milan Bhandari, sales director of Pets Stop, a Chicago-based manufacturer of high-end furniture for the pet and garden industry, says he too has found that pet owners are looking for bowls that fit in with the overall aesthetic of their home, inspiring the company to offer a range of products designed to fit interiors from modern to traditional.
“We’ve noticed a demand for simpler, elegant designs over elaborate, superfluously ornate designs that might distract from the purpose of the item, as well as present a potential hazard for the dog,” he says. “Also, we’ve noticed increased demand for larger diners over smaller ones, as the toy-dog craze seems to have faded somewhat. Our large-diner categories, ranging from 10 to 24 inches tall, are our strongest categories.”
Since many dog bowls wind up in or near the kitchen area, appliances are influencing the kind of materials used, says Alex McKinnon, founder and CEO of Kinn, Inc., a premium pet products manufacturer based in Aliso Viejo, Calif.
“We view pet bowls as kitchen furniture, and much like the rest of their home, people care about the appearance,” he says. “Many consumers have stainless-steel appliances, and we chose to use it since stainless steel is a timeless finish.”
The fact that many consumers are starting to gravitate toward non-porous materials, due to their concerns about bacteria growth in food and water bowls, has also helped spur demand for stainless-steel bowls, says Kim Browning, director of the pet business unit for Hunter Manufacturing, a Lexington, Ky.-based company that manufactures a variety of sports-licensed pet products including logoed dog bowls.
Consumers’ concerns about the environment are also influencing manufacturer’s choice of materials in their product development, according to McKinnon. “Along with aesthetic appeal, eco-friendly is a trend for dog bowls,” he says, adding that pet parents want more from the bowls they purchase than the functionality they bring. The company’s bowl design, for example, incorporates disposable refills, enabling users to save time, water and electricity. As an added benefit for retailers, the disposable nature of the refills also prompts repeat visits to pet stores.
Bhandari agrees that there is a growing demand for eco-friendly bowls. In the last few years, Pets Stop has offered diners made of U.S. recycled plastic, which he says have performed well and have found a receptive audience with consumers looking for products made “closer to home.”
Pet travel and the fact that dogs are spending more time away from home is another factor impacting demand, says Mel Abernathy, director of sales for Dexas International, Ltd., a Coppell, Texas-based manufacturer. “Traveling with pets is on the upswing; so the space-saving benefits that collapsibility provides come into play,” he says, adding that all of Dexas’ products are collapsible, making them easily portable.
Merchandising the Category
Abernathy says that also pays close attention to design and color, knowing the positive effect these aesthetic features can have in-store. Pet specialty retailers should consider bowls a growth category, he adds. “With so much supplier focus on the bowl category, there are many opportunities for retailers to offer variety and visual appeal,” he explains. “And with an added concentration on travel bowl solutions, growth becomes automatic.”
Still, growth is not going to happen absent a big assist from savvy retailers. Without compelling inventory and adept merchandising, these items will not perform nearly as well as they could. The first step for retailers, says Abernathy, is committing to the category and doing an “honest critique” of what the products offer. The objective is to create visual appeal and give customers a range of options to choose from, including elevated-dining and travel bowls.
It is also wise to incorporate various materials, such as plastic, ceramic and stainless steel, into the assortment, as well as bowls designed for different sizes and breeds of dogs, says George. “Larger dogs need larger capacity bowls,” she says. “Stoneware bowls get heavy when filled. Lighter materials like stainless steel and plastic are easier to manage and don’t break like ceramic. However, stainless steel and plastic offer less fashion-forward designs than ceramic bowls.”
By identifying who is feeding the dog in a household, retailers can help direct customers to the best choice, George adds. For example, since children are often responsible for feeding the family pet, plastic bowls, which are lightweight and durable, are often most appropriate.
“It’s also common for the elderly to have companion dogs,” George says. “This is another example of how the functionality of lighter-weight materials like plastic and stainless steel would be more important than the fashion-forward options in ceramic.”
The dog’s size, breed and health can also determine whether an elevated feeding option might be a more comfortable choice for a pet, says Bhandari. “Educate the staff as to the benefits of elevated diners,” he advises. “Initiate a conversation with consumers as to the way they are feeding their dogs, and offer options to enhance the experience.”
Retailers should also query customers about their dogs’ eating habits. For example, is Fifi an over-eager eater? In this case, a slow feeder or bowls with non-slip/skid bottoms might be called for—in fact, says George, the increasing demand for these features is among the biggest changes in the category.
With the availability of licensed sports-logoed bowls, and the popularity of sports in general, it also makes sense to ask if customers are fans of any particular team, says Browning, who points out that if there is more than one person in the household—say a husband and wife—they may root for different teams and opt for two sets of food and water bowls supporting their teams.
For pet specialty retailers interested in selling sports-themed bowls, Hunter can help determine which teams would be best for that store to carry based on the store’s proximity to a sporting venue and that area’s home teams. Browning adds, however, that stores may want to offer merchandise aligned with other popular teams as well, regardless of their proximity.
As for merchandising in general, Browning suggests that retailers stock dog bowls at eye-level and in a prominent position on the shelves. “Don’t tuck them so far back that they can’t be seen or put them in a corner,” she says.
Utilize off-shelf displays in the food area, suggests McKinnon. “This area of the store typically has more foot traffic than the bowl area of the store,” he explains. “Have a compelling message at the point of sale; the shopper needs to know why he or she must buy now.”
Merchandising tips from George include:
• Merchandise by price points, offering a good, better and best assortment.
• Keep the material types and intended uses sorted together—ceramic bowls with ceramic, and so on. “Have all your diners displayed together, and keep all travel bowls in the same location,” she says.
• Dedicate a space specifically to dog bowls. “Retailers should be able to say, ‘Here is our dog feeding area’,” George says, adding that bowls should be merchandises with, or as close as possible to, the food.
• Utilize endcaps and tell a story with these. “Have an endcap that tells a ‘puppy story’,” she says. “This should include smaller bowls in puppy colors like pinks and blues. Merchandise these with other puppy necessities as it related to feeding. The growth will parallel how well the category is merchandised.”