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Is it time to rethink the pet aisle?

Opportunities to win over pet parents extend beyond just food
dog holding bowl
Canadians are increasingly bring animals into the family fold

Canada’s pet population jumped during the pandemic and the high value owners place on their furry friends can open new sales opportunities for grocers. 

Between 2020 and 2022, the Canadian dog population rose to 7.9 million from 7.7 million, while the cat population increased to 8.5 million from 8.1 million, according to the most recent study conducted by Kynetec on behalf of the Canadian Animal Health Institute.

“With 16 million cats and dogs in homes across the country, pet parents are increasingly seeing pets as members of the family,” says Daniel Calderoni, general manager, Mars Pet Nutrition Canada. 

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Though estimates vary, Caddle’s research finds pet industry spending in Canada is now at $4.2 billion and is projected to reach $5.3 billion by 2025, and with the right merchandising and marketing efforts, grocery retailers are in an ideal position to gain sales.

While pet parents are seeking value, they’re open to spending more for their pets, “so if they see a category of food that is better tasting and more nutritious for their pet, they would be open to investing in it,” says Tanmay Perti, marketing manager at Caddle. 

Pet parents increasingly apply personal food philosophies and values to their pets’ diets, says Calderoni, seeking things such as culinary flavours, sustainable sourcing and whole foods. Mars Pet Nutrition’s latest innovations include Cesar’s Wholesome Bowls, a wet dog food with real meat and fresh vegetables.

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Caddle surveys find between 21% and 33% of pet owners have switched their pet product suppliers in the past 12 months. Perti recommends grocers create online ratings and review programs for their pet products. He cites a Caddle survey that found 56% of pet owners feel ratings and reviews are important for decision-making.

Libier Gomez, managing director at Toronto strategy and insights consultancy Sklar Wilton and Associates agrees, noting grocers should take a lesson from pet specialty websites that provide everything from reviews to product information and “really invite me to buy.” 

But, opportunities to win over pet parents extend beyond just food. The report Grocery Stores: The Perfect Place for Pet Food Sales, from The Food Industry Association, highlights opportunities for cross-merchandising. It suggests grocers can strategically place pet food alongside related products such as pet toys, treats and accessories. “This strategy makes it convenient for shoppers to pick up a bag of dog food and grab a new chew toy or a bag of treats displayed nearby,” the report states.

Gomez says grocers “have to create an experience that reflects that emotional connection” owners have with their pets by having everything in a convenient, easy-to-find space.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s May 2024 issue.

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