Healthy options extend to pets

dog%20and%20catOur desire to pamper our pets has led to a fall in the popularity of dog and cat food in tins and foil pouches as owners seek more variety, while also splashing out on insurance to keep pets healthy

In recent years pet food manufacturers in the UK and other developed markets have focused increasingly on innovation to drive growth. Emphasis has been placed on understanding the pet/owner relationship in an urban society where a significant number of people live alone.

The growing trend of treating pets like humans has led to the development of a wider range of pet food products, including new flavours, ranges aimed at particular pet life-stage groups, ranges with particular health benefits and more varied treats. Some of the larger retailers have moved beyond food and other tangibles, into the growing market for pet insurance.

Latest data from BMRB shows that just over 20% of households have a cat at home, 20% have a dog, 4% have caged birds and 12% have fish – tropical, marine or goldfish – kept indoors Figures suggest that while the proportion of households with a dog at home is rising slowly (up from 19% in 2005), the proportion that have a cat – which for several years has been the UK’s most popular pet – may be starting to fall. Ownership of caged birds and fish kept indoors also appears to be falling.

Three-quarters of dog owners use dry, “complete” varieties of dog food, two-thirds use dog food in tins, foil trays or pouches, and just under half use both. One-quarter use mixers. The proportion of households feeding their dog tinned food has fallen significantly over the past five years, down from 57% in 2003 to 46% today, due to increased use of dog food packaged in foil trays or pouches.

However, it appears the popularity of foil trays may have peaked. In 2004, 19% of households with a dog used this type of product, but the figure has since fallen to 14% this year. The decline of foil tray varieties appears to have been driven by the uptake of dog food in pouches, which appeal to those who own smaller dogs or who find cans time-consuming and messy. Today, 15% of households with a dog use pouches, up from 12% last year. About 50% use adult dog food ranges, 10% use senior ranges and just under 10% use products formulated for puppies.

The popularity of dog food in pouches may be affected by the current economic climate, concerns about the environmental impact of excess packaging and shifts in the type of dog owned.

Today, the most popular size of dog is 10-24kg – such as a Cocker Spaniel or Border Collie – and is to be found in 46% of dog-owning households. One-quarter have a dog weighing 5-9kg, such as a Jack Russell Terrier, and 7% have a dog of less than 5kg, such as a Yorkshire Terrier. Similarly, one-quarter have a dog in the range 25-30kg, such as a Dalmatian, and 7% have a dog of over 30kg, such as a German Shepherd.

Although future demographic shifts – or even pop-culture fads – may affect this distribution, for now the picture appears stable. The only category to show significant growth relative to last year is 10-24kg – growth that appears to have been driven by the overall increase in dog ownership, rather than a decline in the popularity of other weight categories.

With regard to cat food, more than 80% of households use food in tins, foil packs or pouches, and the same number use a dry, “complete” product. Almost 70% use a combination of feed varieties.

The decline of cat food in tins is even more marked than the corresponding decline in the dog food market. Today only 43% of households that own a cat use tinned products, down from 61% in 2003. Again, use of foil-tray varieties appears to have peaked in 2004 and subsequently declined. Today 27% of households that have a cat use food in foil trays, down from 50% in 2004.

The reason for this decline is due to the massive popularity of the pouch format, which is now the most popular type of cat food and used by 56% of cat owners. Two-thirds use adult food ranges, 16% use senior ranges and 5% use products aimed at kittens.

Future growth for manufacturers and retailers of dog, cat and other pet foods seems set to derive from further innovation, for example the introduction of new products aimed at promoting health or combating specific health problems, and perhaps the extension of organic options.

Increased uptake of pet insurance in recent years suggests that many owners are opting for more valuable breeds, while those who opt for traditional favourites are prepared to pay more to keep them in prime condition. The proportion of pet-owning households that have insurance for one or more of their animals has increased from 14% in 2003 to 24% today. Over a third of those with dogs have insurance, compared to 23% of those with cats and 18% of those with birds.

The increasing popularity of pet insurance demonstrates owners have a real desire to care for their animals and that can only bode well for the pet services and pet food markets.

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