The dogs had their dinner and the cats got their cream this year - as sales in the category returned to value and volume growth.

Nestlé Purina’s Felix remained top cat, with pouch value sales growing at a category-beating rate (albeit half that of last year), while Mars Petcare’s Whiskas pouches slipped from being just a whisker behind last year to a worrying £18m - its value sales hitting reverse after last year’s 12.2% growth [Nielsen 52 w/e 12 October]. In dogfood, the biggest Purina brand, Bakers, maintained its dominant position but was outperformed by the biggest Mars brand, Pedigree’s can.

Market polarisation has increased, benefiting premium products and treats at one end of the spectrum and value-for-money offerings at the other. The continued importance of affordability is reflected in own label’s 6% value growth versus branded’s 1.5% - not that value-conscious brands have stood idly by.

“One strategy that shoppers use to help manage the household budget is to buy bigger packs, which help them make savings on the cost per pouch. Felix bulk packs’ growth this year illustrates this: sales of the 44-pack of Felix pouches increased by 48% over the last year,” says Andrew Harding, market development organisations director at Purina, adding that round-pound price points have been another key factor.

In the convenience channel, price-marked packs have also played a role, and for one supplier in particular, says Peter Brame, category buyer - pet at Bestway & Batleys. “It has been a close-run thing in convenience this year, but I think the brave step by Mars to introduce price-marked packs has given it the edge over other suppliers.”

It’s been a good year for NPD as suppliers have sought to restore value growth, with Purina launches including Bakers As Good as it Looks, Gourmet Fisherman’s Delights, Go-Cat Crunchy & Tender and new additions to the Felix Goody Bag line-up, while Mars has brought out Pedigree Dentastix Fresh and Sheba Fresh Choice Mini Pouches.

NPD has only been part of the story, however. There has been heavy investment in advertising, with the emphasis as much on values as value. Take Mars’ Big Cat Little Cat campaign, which picked up two gongs at The Grocer MAP Awards, and its partnership with the WWF to support tiger conservation. It also launched Pedigree’s Feeding Brighter Futures campaign to help rescue dogs.

The brands acknowledge they’ll have to up the ante again in 2014. “We know brands can drive engagement and trust, whether this be through new product launches, the variety of what we offer or campaigns that raise awareness of the importance of pet health and wellbeing,” says a Mars spokesperson.

They’ll have to do all this and more if they’re to maintain this year’s growth.

Read The Grocer’s full Top Products Survey.

Top Launch: Bakers As Good as it Looks Nestlé Purina

It only bounded on to shelf in August, but Bakers’ first wet dogfood has already snaffled a 3.5% share of the wet dogfood market, claims Nestlé Purina. The new range, which comes in peel-back, see-through tubs and is being supported by a £9m campaign featuring brand mascot Pippin, combines meaty chunks, vegetables and gravy, and includes dishes such as Tasty Casserole with Chicken, Carrots & Green Beans. The range boasts “a great taste and texture dogs just can’t resist” says Purina.