Sector insight: Dog and cat food

Sector insight: Dog and cat food
Sector insight: Dog and cat food

Cash-strapped pet-owners appear more inclined to splash out on food for their furry friends than costly meals for their families.

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The obesity epidemic is affecting multiple food markets in one form or another; most are adapting and introducing products to offer healthier options. It appears, however, that over-eating and under-exercising are not limited to humans.

Many pet-owners are as indulgent with their animals' diets as they are with their own and obesity among the pet population is rising. Up to one in three household pets is now overweight, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA). The shift to dry food has been part of the problem: it has a higher calorific content than wet and some owners have struggled to adapt to providing correspondingly smaller portions.

As a result, lower-fat versions of products now feature in pet-food aisles alongside those that offer added benefits to pets such as vitamin and mineral fortification.

The PFMA launched its Pet Obesity Campaign in 2009 to educate owners on healthy-size pets. It found that while eight out of 10 dogand cat-owners think their pets are a healthy size, in reality only a third of dog-owners and 23% of cat-owners identified their pets in the healthy weight range in tests.

Where the recession may have made people cut spending on food for themselves, they are less willing to compromise when it comes to their pets, so the sector's value has continued to rise, up 4% in 2009 to £1.8bn, according to Mintel. However, as consumers have switched from wet to dry food, volume has remained fairly static.

Trends that have emerged in the general grocery market are being replicated in pet food, with the launch of organic, natural and free-from products, as well as clearer labelling. Burns' Penlan Farm range, for example, champions local farm sourcing and sustainable farming methods.

A shift to premium products has gripped the sector as the 'meals' become ever-more human-sounding; 'gourmet' and 'luxury' packs have been introduced, especially for cat food. These have all helped increase market value. Winalot has a Roast range, gravy is offered to accompany dry food and celebration dog cakes and biscuits have entered the market.

Treats also tend to focus on pet wellbeing, with products claiming to improve coat quality, help with dental hygiene and improve joint mobility.

The notion that the UK is a nation of animal-lovers is supported by the popularity of keeping pets: there are 10.2m dog-owners and 9.7m cat-owners, according to Ipsos MORI. Dog ownership has been on the rise since 2003, compared with fluctuating cat ownership, while smaller dogs are gaining in popularity.

Brand loyalty and trust are strong and advertising remains a vital tool for maintaining brand awareness. The leading brands, Mars' Whiskas and Pedigree and Nestle Purina's Felix and Bakers, have all invested in advertising support as well as new formats.

However there is room for smaller companies in this market, especially those that carve out a particular positioning. Wagg has established itself based on its value proposition and Butcher's emphasises its fresh meat and natural ingredients.

Almost one in six adults chooses the highest quality pet food available, while 9% go for the cheapest option, according to Ipsos MORI.

The rise in ABs in the population bodes well for top-end manufacturers and overall value. The market is forecast to grow 10% by 2014 to £2bn, according to Mintel. Growth is expected to primarily come from cat food and trading-up in the dog market.

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