The type of animal people choose as a pet says a lot about them - and about their potential shopping habits.

Research company BMRB found that attitudinal differences between dog and cat owners indicate that those with cats are more likely to have an ethical standpoint, such as being vegetarian and refusing to buy cosmetics that have been tested on animals. With this in mind, retailers could maximise catfood sales by siting vege­tarian products near the increasingly mountainous pet sector.

The total catfood sector is worth £79.9bn [TNS 52 w/e 13 August], accounting for just over half of the total petfood sector. Within that, dry accounts for 11.1%, canned 14.7%, trays 3.9%, pouches 21% and treats 1.3%.

Pouches have been the big winners in a market dominated by Whiskas and Felix, respectively the number one and two catfood brands, and both have been busy in the category in the past year.

Masterfoods has launched a new premium range in Whiskas Oh so..., which it says responds to increasing consumer trends towards more natural food for themselves and their pets. "Whiskas Oh so... contains whole pieces of meat or fish, with just enough jelly or gravy to keep them succulent," it says.

The company has also just launched a super-premium brand - the first new petfood brand to be developed by Masterfoods for 23 years - called Perfect Fit.

It says this panders to owners who are increasingly looking for products that suit their cat's nutritional needs as determined by cats' individual lifestyles as well as their lifestage.

The launch is supported by a £4m investment, including an intensive national sampling initiative to drive trial and repeat purchase.

Although still an immature category, lifestage catfood promises to be worth a great deal to grocery, according to Masterfoods.IRI statistics show that food specifically for kittens is already worth £22m and for senior cats £24m. Nestlé Purina, meanwhile, cites IRI research from July that shows that a massive 62% of the UK cat population are either kittens or senior cats.

Nestlé Purina is extending its lifestage offering across its Felix and Go-Cat brands with the launch of Felix Senior 400g cans, new flavour varieties for Felix Kitten and Senior pouches and a Go-Cat Senior 950g pack.

Andrew Harding, customer development director, says: "Education on-pack and at point of purchase is key to unlocking this growth opportunity. We know consumers are willing to pay more for products tailored to their pets' specific needs. Our packs incorporate key messages about pets' changing dietary requirements throughout life and the benefits of feeding the correct diet for their circumstances.

The company is working with retailers to group lifestage products in individual bays and use signs to make it easy for consumers to find the right product for their pet, Harding adds.

Butcher's Pet Care, meanwhile, is targeting increased convenience. The company claimed a UK first earlier this year with its Olli single-serve meals that can be eaten straight from the dish and use anti-slip packaging so the cat can't push the dish around the floor.

Peter Parkinson, marketing director at Town & Country Petfoods, also believes the major trend is in ultra-premium wet products. "The latest innovation in catfood is the use of human-grade ingredients, for example products such as tender chicken breast with ham," he says. "Led by Sheba domes, this market now includes HiLife Perfection, Gourmet Solitaire and a number of own labels."

He adds: "Catfood is a different market from dogfood but follows a similar direction. Cats set the pace for development with their perceived pickiness and desire for new flavours.

"This means trends will often start in the catfood category before transferring to the dog market."

And cats are not as susceptible to digestive upsets as dogs when they switch foods, so there is room for cat owners to experiment with the flood of new products on the market.n