Cool For Cats

The cat food market continues to stride forward into the quality sector, with innovations and stronger branding. Healthy trading for the manufacturers and multiples — and good news for cats?

THE BIRTH of the pet food industry is attributed to James Spratt of Cincinnati, Ohio, who just before the turn of the century travelled to London to sell lightning conductors …

It appears that on his arrival he noticed a number of dogs on the quayside eating discarded ship’s biscuits, and with this in mind set about producing biscuits specially for dogs, so creating the pet food market as we know it.

Manufacturers recognised the potential of the cat food market as far back as the 1930s. Pedigree Petfoods introduced the KiteKat brand and started on the road to market supremacy, quoted recently at 59% (BLA Group).

An estimated 6.9 million cats now grace our shores. A majority of them belong to 4.7 million households, with caring owners prepared to indulge their needs. Altogether an excellent base for a [pounds]493m market engaged in helping owners to feed them.

The present emphasis is on the top end of the market. Tony Aves, marketing manager of Friskies Petcare, says: “One of the major trends at the moment is the demand for super premium, top quality products. We are well placed to take advantage of this.” Nestle’s recent launch of Gourmet Fresh Catch marks one of the latest developments in market direction that can be traced back to the launch of super premium variety Sheba by Pedigree in 1985, claimed to be the first of its kind.

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The market now is made up largely of premium and super premium brands, accounting for 74% (BLA Group).

Whiskas, current brand leader, has recently introduced two new products: Catmilk, a processed milk with the lactose reduced — this natural ingredient in cows’ milk can cause upset stomach, resulting in an estimated half of the cat population preferring not to drink milk — and Whiskas Crunch, designed to be sprinkled over moist cat food to improve the meal and extend the feeding proposition.

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The dry food sector quoted by Pedigree as a [pounds]50m market and growing by 17% per year, now combines as many as four tastes within one variety — such as Rabbit, Beef, Game and Lamb, and Chicken, Goose, Turkey and Duck in the Whiskas Cocktail range.

Nestle’s Friskies Go-Cat claims to be the leader in this sector with a 48% share.

It aims to build on this lead with new-look packaging, stronger branding and extensive TV advertising, posters and on-pack promotions.

Marketing developments with the cats in mind include a move to smaller cartons — some cats dislike food stored after opening — research into formulations in the dried food sector, with a view to solving cats’ digestive systems’ occasional intolerance to this type of food; and progress in the cat treats market, said to be worth around [pounds]6m and growing at around 20% per year.

Marketing aimed at owners includes using recognised figureheads like Arthur, again sitting contentedly on the front of the Spillers cans, and colour-coding, with the Whiskas range introducing a purple-based corporate identity to provide a recognisable block colour effect on the shelves, backed up by colour-coded variety identification stripes.

Multiple grocers have the biggest share of the market, with a reported 61% of sales. Independents achieve 14%, with Co-ops on 11% and pet shops, market stalls and others on 5%, 2%, 7% respectively (BLA Group).

While the market volume in tonnes has remained relatively static, retail prices have risen by 3.4%, suggesting that indulgent owners are prepared to pay more for their product.

Media campaign spends remain high, with Pedigree Petfoods accounting for more than 70% (source BLA) of the total. TV has the bulk of the activity, followed by press and sports sponsorship, including support for the British Amateur Gymnastics Association. This is aimed at children aged seven to 15 and covers more than 90% of British schools.

Tim Nicol, marketing manager for Kitekat, says: “Such a high profile award scheme will help to secure the continuation of this popular and worthwhile sport, while increasing awareness of Kitekat among its key target group — families with children.”

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The scheme is reported as a great success, with more than 100,000 badges awarded. With brand profile so important, it seems unlikely that manufacturers will reduce their advertising presence.

Future trends seem likely to remain concentrated at the quality end of the sector, with the fast-growing “super, super premium” brands becoming real contenders and premium brands the norm. Products are increasingly supplied in single-serving containers, in some cases with peel-back foil or ring-pull lids for convenience.

Other developments include Denes Natural Pet Care’s herbal and chemical-free pet foods, all free from artificial colourings, flavourings and preservatives and containing only natural ingredients.

It all seems a long way from captured mice and birds, until recent years the natural diet for cats. The domesticated cat has been with us for a long time, so keeping them suits today’s faster lifestyle better than ever.

All the signs are that pampering these pets and spending on their preferences can only go from strength to strength, with supermarkets finding, as did James Spratt, that pet food is a lot more profitable than selling lightning conductors.

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