Bottom Line Boost
With growing consumer interest in high-quality pet nutrition and an ever-expanding variety of food, treats and other consumables on the market, retailers have an opportunity to reach new levels of sales success with these fast-moving categories.
Food may not seem like the most dynamic category for a pet specialty retailer at first glance, with customers tending to buy the same product over and over, only changing up the routine if a problem emerges. But taking a passive approach to the nutrition category would be a mistake. By building the best possible food section and pairing it with strategic promotional programs, retailers can ensure frequent return visits and bolster their bottom line with add-on sales of higher-margin treats, toppers and more.
“As a consumable, pet food keeps customers coming back in the door and provides a gateway for well-trained retail associates to interact more frequently—ideally creating enhanced loyalty to the retailer and the chance to expand their basket,” says Michael Landa, founder and CEO of Nulo Pet Food.
Creating an effective, well-merchandised food section starts with the basics of designing and maintaining a visually appealing layout.
“Retailers should never forget the importance of a clean, well-merchandised store,” says Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods. “Open aisles and a curated product selection with clear and concise messaging accompanying products conveys confidence to the consumer that their retailer is a trusted source for quality products.”
One way to keep the food aisles from getting too crowded and giving customers a confusing, cluttered impression is to avoid carrying multiple brands that offer the same or very similar features. Several manufacturers recommend offering a selection of brands that occupy unique niches or fill different needs.
“Some of our most successful retailers prefer to focus on a few key, meaningfully differentiated brands in a well-curated shelf set,” says Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen. “This makes it much simpler for consumers to navigate and for store associates to learn the brands that are being represented.”
Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, agrees, advising retailers to look for brands and product lines that stand out, rather than carrying multiple similar brands, which may blend together to customers.
“Considering recent moves by well-penetrated brands, retailers should diversify their portfolio and always be looking for differentiated and channel-exclusive foods and treats that keep pet owners coming back time and time again,” Hudson says.
In addition to making it easier for customers to pick out the product they’re looking for, having a well-differentiated selection can also make it easier for store associates to be well-informed on the different options and make the best recommendations. Stephanie Volo, vice president of brand and communication for Earth Animal, points out that, given the level of knowledge today’s pet parents have about nutrition, it’s essential that retailers and their sales teams be equipped to talk about each product line in the store.
“In order to have increased food and treat sales, they have to know exactly what they’re carrying and why they’re carrying them,” Volo says.
Although food may be a traditionally low-margin category, it offers a good foundation for retailers to suggest complementary products, thereby increasing overall sales. And this isn’t limited to treats—the number of toppers, mix-ins and other products that pair with pets’ diets is on the rise, presenting a growing opportunity for retailers.
“Our anthropomorphic tendencies are paving the way for a myriad of new , higher-margin food products that provide customers better opportunities to engage with their pets at mealtime,” Landa says. “These new, ‘better for them’ products—such as meaty toppers, functional treats and freeze dried diets—are all high growth segments supporting this engagement movement.”
In addition to being in demand among consumers looking for ways to bond with their pets and provide optimal nutrition, Heather Hickey, vice president of sales—North America for Ziwi Pets, points out that these complementary products provide a sure benefit to retailers’ bottom lines.
“We increase [retailers’] profitability by offering products that can be used as a complete and balanced diet as well as a treat or topper,” Hickey says. “Toppers and treats increase the average spend per customer and increase overall profits.”
Hudson recommends making the connection between these products and main diets by grouping them together within the store, offering pet parents a variety of feeding formats and related items all in one place.
“Wet, dry, treats, mixes—all can be merchandised in the same section of the store or even on the same shelf,” she says. “The importance of offering complementary formats within a brand they know and trust cannot be overstated. Pet owners want to engage with their pets during mealtime and the idea of a mix-and-match approach to nutrition is very appealing.”
While having diversified selection of great products provides the foundation for strong food sales, it’s essential that retailers go further. Finding the right combination of loyalty programs, sampling, discounts, in-store demonstrations and information sessions and making sure these promotions are well-publicized to their customer base can help retailers maximize sales opportunities in food, treats and nutrition-related products.
“The promotional strategies that are most effective are those that incorporate multiple marketing techniques,” Hickey says. “Offering a discount can be compelling for a consumer, but the product also needs to be positioned well in the store, have attractive signage and be supported through social media, and the staff has to be educated to answer customer questions about the products.”
For Volo, a robust sampling program is essential to achieving the strongest sales possible across consumable categories.
“We provide hundreds and hundreds of samples with all the consumables we sell,” she says. “‘Try before you buy’ just rings so true, especially with finicky animals, where you just don’t know if they’re going to like the taste.”
Volo points out that this is one area where brick-and-mortar stores can demonstrate the advantage of shopping with them over e-commerce outlets. By offering samples on the spot, customers can see right away what appeals to their pets and perhaps find a product that will bring them back into the store again and again. Additionally, if the product doesn’t suit the pet’s taste, retailers can suggest alternatives until they hit upon one the pet parent can feel confident buying.
However, Hickey warns that education is a critical element in implementing a sampling program that converts customers from the trying to the buying phase.
“One of the biggest keys to success with a sampling program is educating the customer,” Hickey says. “Samples that are given out randomly often end up in the trash, or they are fed as treats without any intention of buying the product later.”
A sampling program paired with in-store education and demonstrations can also be key to informing customers about the benefits or unique features of a new product or type of product, or building customer awareness for a category that may be showing lackluster sales. Postins emphasizes that this approach is especially important for achieving the full sales potential of diets or feeding formats that may be unfamiliar to some customers, such as dehydrated food.
Although there are plenty of innovations in food, treats and other consumables, manufacturers caution retailers to make sure their sales approach remains grounded in solid nutritional science and knowledge of the brands they carry.
“The most common mistake we see is recommending foods based on fads or marketing trends as opposed to a firm grasp on nutrition and personal experience,” Nieman says. “Within the pet specialty segment, it is incredibly important for retailers to have a good working knowledge of the brands and products they are offering to their customer base.”
Landa agrees that lack of employee training is one of the most common mistakes in selling food, but he notes that it can be one of the easiest to fix. Many brands that are dedicated to the pet specialty channel offer a plethora of options to teach store associates about the key features of their products and are eager to work with their retailer partners on loyalty or sampling programs. By taking full advantage of the educational support manufacturers and distributors offer, retailers can ensure they’re making the most of these high-volume categories.
“As the front line, store associates are the window to the retailer’s brand and are a trusted source of information for pet parents seeking advice,” Landa says. “The better equipped store associates are to be able to assess and recommend appropriate solutions for their customers’ pets, the more likely these pet parents are to keep coming back.” PB