Topping Off Sales

Sales of meal enhancers have tripled in just one year; with the right data, retailers can catch the wave.



Can you imagine a hamburger without ketchup? An ice cream sundae without chocolate syrup? Some pet owners are starting to feel the same way about the food they serve their pets. Meal enhancers, an emerging category that includes everything from gravies to raw mixers, bring extra zest to everyday pet food. 

According to GfK’s point-of-sale panel data, meal enhancers racked up $21 million in sales in 2015. That may not sound like much, but it represents an incredible 332 percent increase versus the year before. The number of SKUs for the category has doubled since 2013, from 65 to 128, with roughly four out of five being for dogs. 

The strong sales growth of this emerging segment in pet retail has been driven by freeze-dried meal mixers and wet, chunky food toppers (think beef or chicken stew). Freeze-dried mixers accounted for 63 percent ($13.1 million) of all enhancer sales in 2015, for a remarkable 625 percent growth rate year over year. Wet food toppers racked up $6.5 million in 2015 (+224 percent YOY) and made up 31 percent of the total meal enhancer category. That leaves $1.3 million for liquid toppers—gravies, purees, and sauces, whose sales were flat compared to 2014. 

GfK’s data also show neighborhood pet specialty shops taking a different approach to the meal enhancers category than their superstore cousins. Retailers appear to be focusing on premium options, with 96 percent of all meal enhancer sales coming from freeze-dried meal mixers ($33 per pound), compared to 38 percent in pet superstores. Meanwhile, 52 percent of all enhancer sales in pet specialty superstores are attributed to wet, chunky food toppers ($7 to $8 per pound). Liquid topper sales growth seems stalled in both channels. 

As manufacturers of freeze-dried meal mixers ramp up their distribution to superstores, we expect to see this category grow in importance for the big chains—following in the footsteps of early-adopting neighborhood shops. Their focus on health makes freeze-dried mixer SKUs an appealing offering for an important group of superstore customers: those who seek quality ingredients along with lower prices. 

Wet toppers, meanwhile, represent a shelf-efficient option for neighborhood pet stores to embrace, at prices not too far below premium. A growing distribution for wet toppers in neighborhood retail—from 7 percent in 2014 to 17 percent in 2015—may indicate that independent shops have already caught on to this opportunity. 

Sales of cat meal enhancers have risen 264 percent in just the last year, compared to 232 percent for dog items. However, while it seems you cannot go wrong with either of those growth rates, cat SKUs are still underrepresented. Possible reasons seem clear: Wet foods represent 42 percent of all cat food sales in the U.S., making wet food toppers less of a draw for cats. And as raw/freeze-dried options for cats are less developed, meal enhancers may remain an even smaller niche premium category for our feline furry friends. But, given their strong sales growth rate, do not forget the kitties completely when filling your shelves with meal enhancers.

We will keep you posted as meal enhancers continue to claim their share of pet sales dollars; be sure to check out this intriguing new twist on pet pampering as you look to add some zest to your 2016 sales.

Maria Lange is Business Group Director for GfK’s POS Tracking (Pet) team. All of the data in this story comes from GfK’s point-of-sale (POS) panel representing over 11,000 U.S. pet retailers. Participating stores get free reports on the marketplace, and clients can use the data to learn about their brands and competitors. Find out more by writing to Maria at


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