Not as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as last year, pet-care sales have slipped 0.8% in value on volumes down 3.1%. But while the category lacks the lustre of a well-groomed coat, there’s still growth to be had, with treats, functional and indulgent products all getting the paws-up from owners.

Nestlé Purina’s Felix pouches top the category again after growing 8.7% in value. This, combined with the 12.9% decline in Mars Petcare’s Whiskas pouch, has widened the gulf between the number one and two brands from £18m to almost £51m. With Whiskas cans (down 16.9%) also suffering, the brand has been left behind by rivals who have benefitted from premium, pouched NPD. Earlier this year, Whiskas responded with the launch of a 50g pouch.

The winners in catfood are high-end, small-format products with strong brand records on innovation, although it’s worth bearing in mind that their relatively modest value makes Purina’s Gourmet pouch (up 16.2%) and Mars’s Sheba pouch (up 24.1%) mere kittens compared with Felix.

In dogfood, Purina’s Bakers retains the top spot despite losing more ground than Mars’ Pedigree can. Liz Wood, market development organisation director at Purina, points to the success of new Bakers wet format As Good As It Looks. Launched last year to capitalise on trends for premium food with a “home-cooked” look, it was supported by a £9m ad campaign which continued on TV this year.

Petcare tpt

Brands have pocketed value growth in one indulgent area: treats. Dreamies, Mars’ brightly packaged cat treats, have delivered 22.7% value growth, while Misfits Tangly Twists, also from Mars, grew 26.6%. Caroline Mabon, dog care and treats senior brand manager at Mars, says: “Owners are looking for treats to bond with, or reward, their pet and this is reflected in the growth of the treats category.”

The trend toward anthropomorphism brings with it a focus on pet Health, too. Added functionality can be seen across the table from Iams and variants of Pedigree’s oral health chew DentaStix, to Wagg’s natural brand Harringtons, where value is up 40.2%.

With value losses of 5.9% against brands’ 0.3% growth, own-label is keeping the category in the doghouse - a turnaround from last year, when own-label grew 6% and branded added 1.5% sales. Trends for advanced nutrition, innovative treats, high-end human-style dishes and added functionality have weighted the category in brands’ favour.

The impact of the claws-out supermarket price war has also been felt in the category. Uttley says, “We are seeing the rise of omni-channel shopper behaviour. Consumers are shopping more frequently and across a wider portfolio of retailer outlets including grocery, discount, convenience and online.” As shoppers decide that one food doesn’t suit all pets, appetite for choice - and doorstep delivery of bulky items - makes online a key channel. New sites such as Ocado’s standalone pet-care website and stand ready to benefit.


Top launch: Pedigree Dentaflex Mars Petcare

For keeping our pooches’ pearly whites healthy. Mars Petcare’s newest dental chew has a spongy texture to flex around a dog’s gumline for an effective clean that makes short work of plaque and tartar, says Mars.

With health and functionality a growing trend in petcare, Dentaflex certainly ticks a lot of boxes: it has no added sugar, artificial colours or flavours and is just 1.5% fat. Launched in July and supported by PoS and TV ads voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.