Grégoire BUCHER – Strategic Planner – TEAM CRÉATIF
Why you should take a look at the petcare segment
At first glance the Petcare universe does not look like an interesting or even valid benchmark when working for human food or even branding more broadly. We are often looking at very short and repetitive shopping experiences that are determined by habit. The habit itself is very often dictated by strong cost element on one side and on the other by the recommendations of the breeder you bought your pet from. There is also the question of the perceived quality of the product that is very obscure: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cat eat his kibbles but the emotion portrayed is lackluster at best – regardless the kibble and Labradors on the other hand look overjoyed whatever you give them… the quality is often boiled down to: “does it make my pet fat?” “will it make him sick” and “does he just refuse to eat it”
But when really looking deeply into what makes a petfood Brand click we find some very interesting and vibrant truths about ourselves as consumers and how Brands are able to work with this.
The market truth
The first and maybe the simplest answer finds itself in the Market itself and its architecture. It is a global market that represents $91 billion (Euromonitor – 2018) today with a 6% annual growth rate. Putting this in perspective breakfast cereal is at $35 billion with a 3-4% annual growth rate, not bad for unassuming little petfood. But even beyond the absolute value of the market, its structure with very large and historic groups that make up the core of the international market (Mars, Nestlé) on one hand and on the other some very strong competitors that are becoming very significant players in certain regions (Deurer, Unicharm, Moganaia & VIP Petfoods) and finally quite a lot of very vibrant small companies and startups – all this makes for a very competitive environment where space on shelf and in consumers’ minds is dear.
This means that for international players to stay relevant they need to compete with very niche brands while staying relevant for the mass market. We have seen in recent times that groups like Mars have been buying or starting ventures in new categories in pet food and even in the pet care universe to really cover more ground, each Brand trying to target a specific category. It’s not just sufficient to have a premium and a more everyday offering, new segmentations in consumer needs have brought Brands to redefine the needspace they are catering to more precisely.
This immense and intense market has seen the development of great Brands and they themselves have helped grow the market. This is where petfood gets very interesting. Our relationship to pets is very different from continent to continent. The emotional bond with pets was not something that was shared throughout the world in a homogenous way. And this is where the mega brands stepped in by listening to local needs and developing the love of pets slowly and surely in the hearts of consumers, brining emerging markets into powerhouse pet loving nations. Much like Starbucks brought the love of a cozy coffee to a premium expression to the world so too did pet food megabrands bring pets at the center of the family.
The Megabrands have also had to contend with a strong image question: they came from a very industrial context but have had to keep up with modern healthy, foody, authentic and holistic trends to stay relevant for edgy consumers without giving the sensation that their product has become overpriced. This is a very delicate equation that is made even more difficult with the challenge of having a homogenous global image where premiumness or value or even naturality is very different from country to country both in value and it what it means for consumers. This is often where people look at global petfood Brands and do not perceive the wildly different realities they have to contend with. They may feel like “old-school” branding and very samey but in reality, they are touching people living very different lives on an emotional level. And it’s crazy to think that this emotion happens on a product that you are not buying for yourself or for which you have no real way of knowing the quality! This is the real genius of petfood mega-Brands!
Finally, petfood Brands have also been keeping up with CSR engagements in very innovative ways. They were not the first to look into this but they have very quickly addressed this question very thoroughly. Again, the industrial image these megabrands have been carrying meant that they needed to address these questions in vibrant and visible ways. There have developed impressive programs within the companies to allow their employees to progress and grow such as working with people with disabilities. They have taken strong steps to address the question of food by limiting food waste and using renewable resources. They have been working in the human sector to reduce hunger as well as animal welfare with animal shelters. These actions run deep in the culture of these companies that have been really committed for many years now even though their actions are not well known by the general public.
Complex offerings and shelf performance
In the very contested shelf space of petfood, Brands have had to work very hard to make their offering very clear and emotionally right. And this is where petfood Brands shine and have spent a lot time investigating what is truly relevant for consumers and making it evident how to shop efficiently. The pet food shelf is by far the most complex to navigate. And it is often a fine balance between a mega-brand with as many DMS as possible with the lifestage of the animal, the texture, the protein and the USP (Unique selling point) of the product on a packaging the size of a tuna-can. And none of this information is trivial for the consumer: a old Chiwawa doesn’t eat like a young Doberman as you could expect… oh and my Chiwawa really loves chicken by the way. Brands have had to come up with treasures of ingenuity to make the navigation as simple and intuitive as possible.
And today the USP are taking on a new importance, where Brands need to justify what they are doing or what they stand for and yet the down to earth navigational elements still need be just as eye-catching. And even veterinarians don’t agree on what is best for your pet: is grain bad for pets? Is raw better? Can I feed him a vegetarian diet, is that ok? There are as many types of diets as for human food with just as many articles on the web and just as many “amateur experts” on forums that will try to orient you on how to feed your pet. This is where Brands really need to step up to explain what they are doing and why through benefits, USPs, descriptors and veterinary reassurance claims.
We as a design agency it has been a journey for us as well and we have learned to work hand in hand with the retail experts and test agencies to get the most out of our designs and anticipate the navigation and consumer journey as much as possible. Here at Team Creatif 30 years of experience with Mars really means something and it is something we take time to transmit to new designers and account managers when they arrive and usually takes a year or so to start getting the hang of all the subtleties in the architecture, design, consumer understanding and Branding.
Look again you might be surprised
All in all, this mix of mega-emotional brands straddling very different consumer realities with extremely complex offering that need to be crystal clear for consumers who they themselves have very diverse expectations, makes the pet food world one of the most complex to compete in. So, go ahead, look again and put yourself in the shoes of consumers from different parts of the world, or better yet, go see what’s happening in your local supermarket when customers are coming up to the shelf, you might be amazed
Petfood megabrands have new challenges ahead of them on how to tackle new pet food trends and consumer trends for example but when they will answer them you can be sure that the answer they bring will be worth taking a look at.
#petfood #petcare #dogs #cats #design