Felix and Whiskas pouches both powered ahead as doting pet owners switched to the format despite its higher cost

There’s a real cat fight for the top spot in petfood. After clawing past Mars Petcare’s Whiskas pouch to take the number one spot in 2008, Felix pouch has extended its lead for 2009, increasing sales by 11.6% to £154.1m.

Yet the growth of Whiskas pouch was almost as impressive – up 9.2% to £149.9m – reflecting the strength of a sector largely unaffected by the recession as animal-loving Brits continue to splash out on their pets. The sector rose 7.5% by value to £1.56bn during the period, with volume up 5.9%.

But growth came at the expense of their can counterparts as cat owners continue to switch from cans to single-serve pouches for convenience. Sales of Whiskas cans fell 4% and Felix can sales fell 1.3%.

“Single-serve pouches are more convenient as one pouch is one meal – far more convenient for the pet owner than refrigerating a half-empty tin,” says Mike Bailey, controller of Bestpets at Bestway Cash & Carry.

Big hitters Mars Petcare and Nestlé Purina may dominate the sector, owning 17 of the 20 products on the list, but the smaller players are enjoying the biggest growth. Butchers Pet Care’s can format was the best-performing product in the top 10 with growth of 19.1%. Wagg Foods’s Wagg Complete had the highest growth in the top 20, with sales up 26.2%. 

“Wagg has reinforced its position as a value-for-money brand,” says Bailey. “Our sales of Wagg through pet specialists are up 33% by volume. And Butcher’s offers retailers richer profit on return, which makes their products more attractive, especially for independents.”

Wagg’s performance was boosted by its positioning as a value brand, believes sales and marketing director Tom Page. “We pride ourselves on being true to our value heritage,” he says. “Wagg products consistently offer the core elements customers look for without the costs filtering through to the price on shelf.”

“Nestlé Purina and Mars are not necessarily seen by consumers as dominating the sector: the consumer will see the brand rather than the manufacturer,” adds Butcher’s Choice brand manager Alison Cockcroft. 

“Butcher’s has achieved its growth by simply producing food containing fresh meat and natural ingredients.”

Top launch: Bonio Rawhide, Nestlé Purina
In September, Nestlé Purina launched Bonio Rawhide – its first major NPD in nearly eight years and the brand’s first move into non-biscuit products. The dual-textured knotted premium dog chews are available in chicken or beef flavours.

Nestlé Purina says that since launch the product has been well received by owners and their dogs, gaining distribution and showing positive rates of sale.

Top Products Survey 2009