When it comes to pets, food is serious business. Consumers are more than willing to stretch their budgets to provide nutritious meals for their pets. As a result, food is often the highest-performing category in pet specialty stores, leading many retailers to dedicate a wealth of space to it. However, food and the dishes it is served in go hand in hand, and manufacturers of pet feeding and watering products say retailers should put as much focus into this category as they do the food aisle.
“Every dog and cat needs a bowl for food and water, therefore customers will continue to buy feeding and watering options consistently with every pet,” says Eric Abbey, president of Loving Pets. “But these pet parents want variety, and retailers should offer their customers a range of price points and designs, but [also] focus on feeding products and accessories that offer both quality and affordability.”
Variety is essential in the category, as consumers consider many factors before selecting a food or water bowl for their furry friends. Designs that complement a pet owners’ home décor remain important. However, with an increased focus on health and wellness, more consumers are looking for feeding products that help with portion control and weight management.
“The bad habits humans have is getting projected on our pets,” says Jon Cornwell, category manager at PetSafe Water and Feed Solutions Business Unit. “This includes the tendency to overfeed our pets, making them overweight, and thus raising their health risk.”
According to some estimates, a little over 50 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are obese. Manufacturers in the category have done their part to help pet owners manage their pets’ weight in convenient ways by introducing innovative feeding products to the market.
“The category has reflected the need for products that prioritize health through the introduction of portion-control features, antimicrobial protection and filtration systems—including packaging that clearly communicates such beneficial features to the consumer,” says Monika Allen, product manager of feeding and watering at Petmate.
In order to give pet owners a convenient way to feed their pets without making food continuously accessible, Petmate introduced its Portion Right Food Dispenser last year. It makes it quick and simple-to-serve portioned meals with an easy-turn knob that releases a quarter cup of food from its ten-pound reservoir.
“With an electronic programmable feeder and gravity feeders already in place, we developed a product that combined the best qualities of both affordability and easy food portioning to create a one-of-a-kind way to help pet owners avoid overfeeding their pets,” Allen says.
PetSafe is another company adding portion-control features to its product lineup. The company’s feeding solutions allow pet parents to set the time that their pets will be fed. “Our Healthy Pet Station is a gravity water and food system that allows the pet parent, if they so choose, to provide their pet unlimited access to food and water,” Cornwell says. “They are black and stainless steel, and fit into many kitchens’ décor.”
While many manufacturers are responding to weight-management concerns by introducing new feeding systems, others are offering affordable accessories that make it easier for pet parents to control how much food their pets receive. Loving Pets—a company well known for its stylish dog and cat bowls—recently debuted the Gobble Stopper slow-feeding accessory.
“[We] listened to customer feedback on the common problem of pets eating too quickly, which commonly causes stomach discomfort and bloating in both dogs and cats, and after researching and product testing, we launched the Gobble Stopper,” Abbey says.
The Gobble Stopper is a bone-shaped insert that easily attaches to an existing pet bowl—made of any material, including stainless steel, plastic, etc.—with a sturdy suction cup that attaches to the bottom of the bowl. “It slows a dog’s eating speed exponentially because it forces each pup to eat around and underneath it,” Abbey says.
Though many solutions involve pet bowls, there are other accessories available for consumers looking to manage their pet’s weight. Dexas International’s Popware for Pets brand, known for its collapsible pet bowls for home and travel, recently added a portion scoop to its accessory line.
“There are far too many overweight and obese pets in the world being loved to the point where their health is suffering,” says Jeff Logan, director of marketing at Dexas International. The KlipScoop is the company’s solution to that problem. It’s an all-in-one dry-food scoop, collapsible measuring cup and sturdy bag clip. At feeding time, it becomes a precise measuring cup for scooping the correct portion size of dry food into a pet’s bowl.
Feeders and accessories are essential for pet owners concerned about the health and wellness of their pets; however, manufacturers note that watering solutions are just as important. Trends in watering solutions include free-falling water fountains and continuously flowing fountains.
“For water solutions, the automation is both about convenience and health as free-falling water helps encourage the pet to drink more,” says Cornwell, adding that free-falling water mimics the free-falling water found in nature, and pets are naturally drawn to it. “By encouraging our pets to drink more, they stay hydrated, which can help reduce the chances of contracting urinary tract disorders—a leading cause of trips to the vet for most pet parents,” he says.
PetSafe’s free-falling water fountain designs provide streams of water that do not come in contact with any man-made material. Its falling action adds oxygen into the water, which makes the water cooler, fresher and better tasting, Cornwell says.
Technology also plays an important role in the category, particularly with programmable feeders and electronic pet fountains. “Technology can be a unique design, a clever mechanical function, an innovative delivery system, etc.—not just the gadgetry that we expect from technology,” says Cornwell.
Chuck Whitney, president of Slopper Stopper, says his product’s unique design offers a solution to a common problem. “The Slopper Stopper slows dogs down from drinking water too fast and helps eliminate choking,” he says.
Launched last October, the Slopper Stopper is a drip-less water bowl that Whitney says reduces the amount of water that hits the floor when a dog drinks from the bowl by up to 85 percent. But the design, he adds, is not only neater, it is safer.
“I had someone slip and hit the ground one time in my house because the water was dragged throughout the house, so the safety issue is also important,” Whitney says.
Offering solutions to common feeding and watering issues is important in a pet specialty retail store. Allen says retailers should offer diversity in the category in both size and function because pets’ feeding behaviors and needs often vary depending on size, species and age range. “It is [also] important to ensure retail placement of the feeding and watering category near pet food to help increase impulse purchases,” she says.