Raising the Bar
As growing demand from pet owners brings more brands and competition to all parts of the industry, companies are finding new ways to stand out from the crowd.
For the first time ever, Global Pet Expo is completely sold out. Even with an expanded show floor—now covering an area almost as large as six football fields—every square foot of exhibitor space is filled with companies offering the best products on the market for pets of all kinds.
PetIQ, exhibiting for the first time at Global, was already enthusiastic about the show’s prospects within just a few hours of the doors opening. The company is promoting its PetLock flea and tick line, Vera dog treats and PawsIQ dental and pill pocket treats.
“Right now, people don’t know who we are,” said Adam Fellers, senior vice president of sales for PetIQ. “This show will be huge for us, and we’re excited to be here.”
From its spot in the What’s New! section of the floor, PetIQ has a prime view of the expanded and redesigned New Products Showcase, which was attracting plenty of attendees and generating talk on the show floor. Brian Collier, marketing manager for TropiClean, commented on how the Showcase has grown and noted that the first day was starting off strong.
“The show is definitely exciting this year,” he said. “There’s already a buzz.”
Leslie Yellin, executive vice president of Multipet International, also noticed early enthusiasm the first morning on the show floor.
“Last year started slow, but this year we’ve already had many of our major clients here,” she said. “People are excited, and companies have really stepped up their game. It just gets better and better every year.”
Companies in a wide range of categories are seeing continued growth as pet parents look for the newest and best products. From toys to food to supplements, consumers are investing in products that help their pets live longer, happier lives.
“We’ve expanded our flea and tick line, and we’ve had huge success with that,” Collier said. “There has been amazing growth in dental. We are working toward incorporating the total wellness of the pet, as there’s growing desire for products that not only make pets happy, but healthy as well.”
PetMatrix, makers of the rawhide-free SmartBones chews, is also working to provide a variety of healthy options to satisfy this growing demand. The company recently rolled out its grain-free SmartBones Holistic chews, as well as a freeze-dried Small Bites treat line.
“We’re really working toward healthier product development,” says Maggie Marchese, vice president of marketing for Petmatrix. “We’re introducing more fun sizes and shapes in our SmartBones line and trying to make them engaging for both the pet and the owner. We want to provide products that are delicious, but also good for the pet.”
With pets increasingly being recognized as members of the family, demand for new types of toys is on the rise as owners look for new ways to interact and bond with their pets.
“Licensed products are exploding. Cat toys are exploding,” said Yellin, pointing out Multipet’s newly launched Shrek toys and line of interactive, battery-operated cat toys. “Previously, buyers thought cat consumers wouldn’t spend a lot of money on cat toys, but the consumers have shown us that they’ll spend the money on their cats if they’re offered quality products. It’s a very viable category.”
Jennifer Cao, co-founder and vice president of ZippyPaws, is expecting continued growth from the toy category this year, especially with warmer weather and the promise of more outdoor time with pets approaching.
“People love our food toys, and we’re expecting those to be huge in the coming year,” Cao said. “With summer coming up, people are looking for water toys, so we’ve launched our Floaterz toys that float upright when tossed in the water. Pet owners are looking for toys that can bring the whole family together with their pets.”
The toy category’s growth, like many in the pet industry, has inspired a wealth of new products. As is clear on the Global Pet Expo show floor, companies are faced with the challenge of finding ways to catch buyers’ attention in a busy marketplace. ZippyPaws’ plush and tough toys feature trendy and fun designs, part of Cao’s efforts to offer products that stand out and make a strong brand impression.
“With so many people doing plush, we’re definitely trying to focus on making unique products,” she said. “We focus a lot on our characters and their faces. We want to make things that really say, ‘this is ZippyPaws.’”
Fellers notes that to really stand out to retailers, manufacturers not only have to offer top-quality products, they also need to establish themselves as a trustworthy brand to work with.
“Retailers are looking for companies they’re going to partner with,” he said. “You have to ask, ‘How are you going to be relevant? What products are going to be accretive for retailers, not just cannibalize or replace their sales of other products?’ The goal is to increase the total transactions for retailers.”
The Challenges of Growth
The industry’s growth in new channels, especially in online retail, has brought its own set of challenges. Several manufacturers talked about how they’re working to adapt to the impact of e-commerce, while maintaining strong relationships with brick and mortar retailers.
“Consumers are buying online, and we can’t just ignore that,” said Alyssa Guertin, brand manager at Pet-Ag. “We’re recognizing those challenges, and we’re having those conversations both within our company and externally with our retail partners. There maybe isn’t an easy answer, but we’re trying to figure out how we can support both.”
TropiClean is also focusing on strengthening its connections with retailers, launching a pet professionals portal on its website as a resource.
“We want to foster and continue our retailer partnerships,” Collier says. “But we’re also staying in touch with e-commerce and recognize that how consumers buy is changing.”
Despite the challenges it creates, the pet industry’s growth is ultimately driving businesses to innovate and improve, whether through new product development or by adapting business models to best serve their partners and the consumer.
“It feels like the industry as a whole is starting to operate on a more sophisticated level, like some other consumer packaged goods industries,” Guertin observed. “I’m seeing all the talent that companies are bringing in. This is becoming a more competitive environment, and there’s a need for a greater experience base, whether it’s in digital, or creative strategy or business strategy in general.”