Pet Feeders of the Future

It is 2016, and even Fido is going high-tech. Automated feeders and fountains offer opportunities for retailers to rethink the standard category.


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It seems like everything in our lives is getting a high-tech, “smart” upgrade—our watches, cell phones, and now pet feeders.

Over the past few years, manufacturers have revolutionized traditional pet food and water bowls with automation and other design enhancements. These automated feeders and fountains range from simple gravity-driven dispensers to elaborate facial-recognition software to water dishes that mimic bubbling brooks.

No longer considered novelties, automatic feeders and fountains have become an integral part of the steadily growing pet category. Pet owners are looking for more than just futuristic bells and whistles though. They want useful and efficient tools that add value to their everyday lives and to the lives of their pets.

“Pet owners want innovative products that deliver on what they promise, are durable and, most of all, remove pain points for owners,” says Kim Goldsworthy, general manager of sales and marketing at Heyrex, a New Zealand-based creator of innovative pet products.

One of the biggest benefits of automated feeders and fountains is the freedom they provide for pet owners to schedule feedings ahead of time. Models like PetSafe’s Healthy Pet Simply Feed allow owners to set up multiple meals—usually three to five—to be distributed each day. So, even if pet parents can’t be home for dinner, they can have the peace of mind that no furry friend ever goes hungry.

“Automated pet feeders and fountains are great options for pet owners who are constantly on the go and have fluctuating schedules,” says Emilye Schmale, senior marketing manager for Petmate, in Arlington, Texas. “No matter how busy the day turns out, your pets will always have proper hydration and will be fed on time. Automatic feeders and fountains offer ease for both pets and pet parents.”

Portion control is another compelling feature of automatic feeders. Pet parents today are concerned about monitoring their animal’s food intake, and rightfully so. More than 57 percent of cats and 52 percent of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to a 2014 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. All of that extra weight puts them at risk for serious health conditions including heart disease and diabetes. 

Feeders like Petmate’s Le Bistro Programmable Food Dispensers are great weight-management tools that also eliminate the need for tedious scooping and measuring out of kibble.

There are even apps that work with an automatic feeder that allow pet owners to monitor a pet’s diet via a smartphone like Petnet’s SmartFeeder and corresponding app. With the app, owners can create a specialized diet based on their pet’s age, weight, breed and activity level and schedule feeding times. So while you check your Instagram feed, you can also make sure Fido has a nutritious breakfast.

For homes with multiple furry residents, models like CatFi Pro have facial recognition software that can differentiate between several cats and even let owners stay connected with their feline friends while away.

Many manufacturers have likewise come up with an answer to pet owners’ call for fresh and sanitary water solutions. Water bowls often sit on the floor filled with stagnant water and collect dirt and grime that pets then drink. Automated pet fountains such as the Torus bowl by Heyrex and the Raindrop from Pioneer Pet utilize filters to purify water of contaminants.

Access to clean water is also important because, just like humans, dogs and cats can get dehydrated when they don’t drink enough. This can lead to urinary tract infections and other health issues. So fountains typically feature some form of running water, which serves to attract pets and encourage them to stay properly hydrated all day long.



Feeding Customers Information
With so many advancements in the world of pet feeders and fountains, industry experts emphasize the importance of consumer education to retailers as part of their marketing and sales strategy.

“The most basic question I get from consumers is ‘why an automatic feeder?’ Many consumers don’t fully understand the benefits of the moving water, quality material and charcoal filter,” says Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager for Cedarburg, Wis.-based Pioneer Pet Products. “That is why education is key.”

One of the easiest and most efficient ways for retailers to help keep their customers informed is through well-crafted displays touting the latest and greatest models in the category. Signs listing the benefits of automatic feeders and fountains or with phrases like “Product Innovation” and “New Products” are surefire ways to spark interest.

Automated pet feeders and fountains tend to take up more room than conventional bowls, so every square inch matters for retailers to make the most of this category. In addition to great signage and stocking feeders and fountains near pet food supplies, retailers should also consider utilizing in-store demonstrations to exhibit and promote products. Automated feeders and fountains are an especially ideal fit for live showcases due to their stylishly high-tech appearance, moving parts and interactive displays. 

“With a fully assembled sample displayed, the consumers can see how it works, how quietly it runs, and get a better view of how it might look in their homes,” explains Schmale.

Seeing these products in action can convince even the most skeptical pet owners to trade-up to these higher-end models.

Another key part of consumer education is addressing their concerns and questions. Some of the major sticking points for many pet owners are the affordability, reliability and programmability of products.

In order to help encourage customers to make the leap over to automated feeders and fountains, retailers should stock products with a wide range of price points including more affordable options. But that doesn’t mean that retailers should shy away from more high-end models, according to Goldsworthy.

“Don’t be afraid of higher priced premium innovative products in this category especially those that provide annuity revenue like fountains with replaceable filters,” says Goldsworthy. “Price is a reflection of quality and premium product.” 

Retailers can also help ease owners’ worries by utilizing product reviews on signage prominently displayed or creating review-themed displays like “Staff Picks,” “Recommended Feeders” or “5 Star Products.”

The No. 1 question retailers will get from customers according to experts, though, is “What feeder or fountain is best for me and my pet?”

“Consumers want to know what the difference is between one bowl or fountain compared to another,” says Goldsworthy. “They need to understand what they are getting given the investment that they are making.”

In order to properly answer this question, it’s vital for retailers to know what’s happening in the rapidly evolving category. New styles, colors and designs are constantly coming out, so Goldsworthy urges retailers to “keep abreast of new products in the market, new innovations and products that are doing well on Amazon, blogged or reviewed online.”

With the power of well-informed employees, retailers can help customers navigate the numerous models on the market to find the right automated feeder or fountain for their pet. Not only does this depict the retailer as a trustworthy source of pet product information in the minds of consumers, it builds the kind of store-customer relationship that keeps pet owners coming back time and time again.

 

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