Reigning cats set new trends

To hold onto market share, all retailers must take note of a shift to owning ‘lazy’ pets and growing consumer preference for superstores.

UK pet owners are shunning “man’s best friend” in favour of its feline counterpart. While this nation of animal lovers may be doing away with dogs – especially of the big and vicious variety – they are more likely to have a cat or two.

This means fast sales growth of catfood and marginal growth of dogfood. This is good news for multiple supermarkets, which sell a higher proportion of catfood than dogfood. It will put further pressure on independents and the pet trade, which are more important destinations for dog owners.

Indeed, petfood and pet products are one of the few areas where supermarkets are coming under pressure from specialist retailers. They have resolved to fight this with the launch of own-label petfood ranges, such as Paws and Scout from Sainsbury’s. The chain claims that the ranges now account for a quarter of its total petfood sales.

Adverse publicity over dog attacks and complaints of dog fouling have had some impact, but modern lifestyles increasingly demand “lazy” pets – with buyers either choosing a cat or a small dog which doesn’t require as much care or exercise. The recessionary years may have had a long-term impact as well – a dog is perceived to be more expensive to keep than a cat. At the same time, there is an increased tendency for owners to spoil the pet they have, with concern for health and well-being leading to a trade-up to premium food and pet products.

Petfood and pet products are part of a broader market for products and services, which includes vets, pet insurance, and kennels and catteries. The total market was worth about 2.8bn in 1995. The petfood market is the largest sector, with an estimated 1.4bn in sales in 1996. This has increased in current terms by 17 per cent.

In real terms, the dogfood market has expanded by only two per cent since 1991. The continuing decline of the dog population will make market growth of the dogfood and accessories market harder to achieve in the run-up to the year 2000.

Canned food will remain the most popular form for the immediate future. However, in the long term, prevailing trends in the value and volume of sales of complete dried dogfood suggest it could become prevalent, perhaps by the middle of the next decade. Grocery multiples have yet to get a grip on the complete dry dogfood market with own brands.

The outlook for cat and other petfood is more positive, with a continued advance in cat ownership. Although dry food will increase its share at the expense of the moist canned products, it will not seriously challenge the moist sector at the same rate as it has in the dogfood market.

Between 1991 and 1995, government figures show a decline of over seven per cent in the number of shops selling petfood. This is substantiated by trade views that badly-run, smaller businesses are disappearing from the retail market; they have not been able to compete with the pet superstores, which have spurred independent traders into action. Taking smaller businesses’ place are independent chains which are expanding and can compete with the superstores in terms of professionalism.

The outlook for the pet market is positive. Demographics will work for the benefit of the industry – the number of children in the ten-to-15 age range, who are most likely to own pets, is likely to grow at a much faster rate than the overall population. As modern lifestyles and working patterns lead to time constraints, the trend toward “lazy” pets is likely to continue.

The pet trade will become more professional, with fewer, better stores. Those smaller retailers which rise to the challenge will remain in place, others will fall by the wayside.

Pet superstores will grow in number, and increasingly adopt US strategies of introducing veterinary surgeries and grooming parlours on site, although their continued expansion plans may be challenged by the lack of available out-of-town sites.

Local pet shops have the highest penetration among consumers for the purchase of pet products, at 40 per cent. Of the grocery multiples, Tesco and Sainsbury’s lead the field with 12 per cent penetration each. Pet superstores achieved a higher penetration than individual grocery multiples, with 13 per cent. Garden centres achieved only four per cent, and the penetration for DIY stores was so small as to be marginal.

Pet superstores appeal to younger consumers, aged 15 to 19, with the second highest penetration among 35- to 44-year-olds, who perhaps have older children.

Local pet shops have a much wider consumer base – there is an even spread of socio-economic groupings, with a slight AB bias, not likely to be pre-family.

For trends in pet retailing, it is worth looking at the US, where pet superstores such as PetsMart, Pet Food Warehouse and Pet Care Superstore have hit grocery retailers hard. Supermarket share has fallen from 95 per cent in 1984 to 55 per cent in 1994. If this pattern is repeated in the UK, it could mean that petfood and related products will be one of the few areas where the multiples are losing out to specialist and independent retailers.

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