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Pets enjoy a golden age of products

BY Ken Ryan

From eco-friendly birdhouses to cylinder nano aquariums for jellyfish and blingy metallic fetch balls for dogs, the pet products market is flush with innovative and, at times, far-out products.

These aforementioned offerings were seen at the recent Global Pet Expo, where Kevin Rewerts, divisional VP Farm, Ranch, Auto & Pet Division, True Value, said he went looking for distinctive items. “The retail business these days is being driven by higher-quality unique products,” he said. “Products that are me-too or generic are just that — nothing exciting. We are continuing to look for products that differentiate our retailers and move the consumer from a ‘maybe buyer’ to a ‘definite yes’ consumer.”

According to the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA), overall spending in the pet market reached a record $60.28 billion in 2015. This market encompasses food (the largest product category), supplies/over-the-counter medications, veterinary care, live animal purchases and other services. The growth in spending reflects the trend of Americans owning more pets today than ever, and in many cases pampering them.

About 40% of Karsten’s Ace Hardware’s business (four Arizona locations) is in pets, and the bulk of that is in horses; the stores are located near equine-rich areas, as well as farm and ranch. Dave Karsten, the owner, said the company carries a full line of Purina horse, livestock and animal feed, and his business seems to grow every year. “The good thing is it is a consumable product so we get a lot of repeat customers, which is better for us. And because we cater to horses, we sell a lot of it.”

Rewerts said True Value’s goal is to seek out premium pet specialty products — which fetch higher margins — as well as offerings that can be differentiated from what is found in mass merchants and pet specialty stores. “Our customers are looking for and willing to spend more on high-quality products,” he said. “We are looking for high-perceived quality items that we can buy in large quantities and pass on the savings to the consumers. We are seeing continued growth in the consumable and edible products that drive retailer footsteps to our stores. Consumers want the best quality they can afford and want an easy-to-shop experience with competitive pricing.”

Organics/healthy living

As a pet product category, food remains the leading source of dollars spent. To augment that trend, pet owners are scrutinizing the treats they buy even more closely, according to Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association (APPA), who added that interest in natural, locally sourced ingredients has risen as a result.

Hardware retailers noted a marked acceleration in healthier pet food across the board, not just dogs and cats. Sheryl Whitney, a department manager at Steadman’s Ace Hardware in Miles City, Montana, said Steadman’s has seen the healthier trend for three to four years. “People love their pets and want to take care of them like it’s their kids, so there is naturally a trend toward healthier food and hygiene for dogs and cats.”

Rewerts said True Value is seeing new organic products in treats, food and even some new toys. However, he added: “We have not had much success, nor have we had many stores ask for these products. For the most part, the consumer is happy with the premium quality grain-free and more holistic natural products.”

Central Garden & Pet Company reported a significant increase in organic sales during 2015, at least in the dog, cat and aquatics categories. The company has ramped up activity over the past year with innovative food products. One notable launch was its Nylabone Healthy Edibles Wild Flavors, a specially formulated line of edible dog chews made with real bison, salmon and venison. In addition, it developed a Wild Alternatives line of non-edible chews that it plans to expand in 2016.

This healthier trend comes at a time when the obesity rate among dogs is estimated to be 53%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese, and the trend toward obesity appears to be worsening. Veterinarians are noticing a corresponding increase in the prevalence of dog obesity. But just as humans can join health clubs or purchase exercise equipment, owners now have the option of buying exercise equipment for their best friends. For example, Blue-9/FitPaws Canine Gym In a Box contains a step stool, balance ball and balance disk used for stretching, lunging and other exercises that can be done inside the home. Then there is the FitPaws Safety Harness, featuring two adjustable straps of high-strength nylon webbing for a customized fit. Owners can manage a dog’s movement, guiding it atop the ball or down once training is over.

Retailers said that these unique products are growing in importance and piquing interest among pet owners.

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