Serving Them Well
Today’s pet bowls, diners and feeders do more than just hold food and water. They play a big role in keeping dogs healthy, encouraging activity and providing peace of mind for pet owners.
At one time, people may have given little thought to what they used to feed and water their dogs, but that is hardly the case today. Instead, pet owners are increasingly choosy about pet bowls, diners and feeders, and consider them to be integral contributors to their dog’s health and well-being. As such, these products are occupying a more prominent position in the house, even expected to contribute to the décor (or at least not detract from it). This is attributed directly to the dog-as-family-member trend, which has inspired no small measure of product development from pet bowl and feeding system manufacturers.
Among those developments are products designed to make traveling and errand-running with pets easier and less messy, feeding systems that are engineered to accommodate older dogs with joint or back issues, and bowls that prevent dogs from eating too fast. The upshot of all this is that consumers have more choices than ever when it comes to pet bowls.
Sachi Ushihara, one of the co-founders of PawNosh Recycled Glass Pet Bowls, says that as consumers become more educated about food container safety, they are starting to change their buying behavior accordingly. Located in Berkeley, Calif., the company designs and produces 100-percent post-consumer, recycled glass bowls for dogs and cats. According to Ushihara, glass is the only food and liquid packaging material designated by the FDA as GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, as long as it’s not painted or coated in any way.
“Billions of dollars are being spent on purchasing higher-quality, natural pet foods, but little attention has been paid to the bowls that were holding this higher-quality food,” Ushihara says. “However, slowly and surely, as pet owners start purchasing organic or grain-free dog and cat foods, raw foods or other more natural solutions, they’re also beginning to question the safety of the bowls they’re currently using.”
Additionally, there is a growing segment of the market that is more affluent and therefore more willing to spend on premium–and stylish—products, says Kate Jones, president of Platinum Pets, a Vancouver, Wash., manufacturer of powder-coated bowls and diners, feeding mats and a variety of other pet products. In fact, price does seem to be less of a concern for pet owners when it comes to this category. According to the 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owner Survey, only 29 percent of the respondents indicated they were most concerned about the price of a bowl, rather than its particular features. Instead, the vast majority (71 percent) ranked qualities like non-slip/non-spill, bowl heights, dishwasher safe and so on as more important—useful information for pet specialty retailers that may be revamping their bowl/feeding systems inventories.
The pet bowl category these days is dynamic, with a lot of product innovation, making it one that pet specialty retailers also need to keep a close watch on, says Chris Allen, vice president of Poochie Bowl, a Lansing, Mich.-based manufacturer of travel dog bowls. With so many options—and because, as Allen points out, not all dog bowls are created equal—directing customers to the feeding solution that is going to work out best for them requires a bit of friendly interrogation on the part of pet specialty retailers.
“Pet parents are often out of their depth and don’t know the difference between one watering system versus another, let alone a bowl,” says Kim Goldsworthy, general manager of sales and marketing for Heyrex Limited, a Wellington, New Zealand-based pet product company.
“Engage with the customer,” Goldsworthy advises. “Ask what they’re looking for. Do they know the features of one versus another? Educate through newsletters, on-shelf messaging and demonstrations.”
She suggests that sales staff start by asking about the pet’s daily activities, followed by other questions such as:
• Does the pet travel with the owners? What kinds of recreational activities do they engage in with their pets? How important is portability to the owner?
• What does the customer like and dislike about what they’re currently using to feed the pet?
• How active is the pet?
• What is its age and breed?
• Is the dog drinking enough water? Do they drink from more than one source? Is the bowl often empty?
• How many pets are in the home?
While there are many relevant factors to consider, age can play a particularly important role in the selection process, as can any medical issues, says Jones. For example, if the dog is older and has difficultly bending down or has hip issues, an elevated diner may provide relief, she says.
“Providing a comfortable bowl for a dog is important, especially as that dog begins to age,” agrees Milan Bhandari, sales director for Pets Stop, a Chicago-based company specializing in high-end dog diners and dog gates. “Intake of essential nutrients is important in all stages of a dog’s life, but especially in advanced age. Having the correct elevated diner allows a dog to consume its food in comfort, at the right posture and pace. This reduces gas intake, strain on the neck and back, and assists dogs suffering from arthritic conditions.”
Ushihara recommends asking about the pet’s eating habits. Does the dog pick up the bowl and carry it around? Does he tip the bowl over frequently, or push it around the floor? If so, non-tip/non-skid bowls, and heavier ones are probably an appropriate suggestion. Dogs that gulp down their food may do better with a slow-feeder, which Bhandari says are rising in popularity.
Depending on where the bowl will be situated in the house, design and color may be important; if outside, a sturdier, weather-resistant bowl may be best. Some customers might prefer a ceramic bowl, others glass, stainless steel or even plastic (a good travel option). In some cases, the customer’s age and any physical limitations may need to be considered. For example, a customer may need a lighter-weight bowl, one that is easier to grip/handle or an elevated diner that doesn’t require the owner to bend down as far to reach it.
Minding the Category
Pet specialty retailers that don’t offer a full array of bowl, diner and feeder choices are missing out, since every person coming into the store who has a pet needs a bowl, says Sumit Sethi, president of Indipets, Inc.—located in Hillsborough, N.J., the company manufactures stainless steel pet bowls for dogs and cats. Retailers need to carry a range of price points, styles, designs and types in order to capture this business and keep customers returning, says Sethi.
It’s also smart to create a premium bowl section in the store to separate these products from their less-expensive counterparts. “Think about the way smart grocery stores separate their organic fruits and vegetables away from the non-organic produce,” Ushihara says. “Most don’t put the organic grapes next to the non-organic grapes because they know it causes customers to purchase solely on price. Pet specialty stores should avoid doing this as well, in my opinion.”
When handled correctly, this category can help position the pet specialty store owner as a trusted advisor and concerned friend, not just a retailer, says Jones.
“Consumers today want that kind of relationship with their local pet store owner so they can have peace of mind that their pet is getting the best,” she says.