Dog ownership has flattened out in recent years, with an estimated six million dogs in the UK, but the market for dogfood is still up 2.3% to £737.4m [TNS Worldpanel, 52 w/e August 13], mainly due to people trading up to perceived higher quality products.
Dry dogfood is showing good growth at 3.9% year-on-year, while canned is up 2.6%. Trays, however, have had a bad year, down 13.6% - and pouches have slipped by 0.5%.
Andrew Harding, customer development director at Nestlé Purina, says one of the most noticeable moves of late has been in the switch from wet dogfood to dry, with people starting to see the benefits of dry in terms of both health and of cleaning up after their dog. Steve Uglow, petcare buyer at MBL, confirms that there is a move to simpler and more convenient complete dry food such as Bakers.
As well as being more convenient, dry dogfood can offer other benefits, such as a new recipe from Burgess, which it claims produces 'pickupable poo'. Called Alfie, the dry food has a formula that affects the end result of digestion, making it much easier to clean up. It is aimed at dogs that lead an urban lifestyle, which are often kept indoors for long periods and tend to be walked in public places.
Trays' failure to take off in a big way is, according to Harding, down to the fact they are only really suitable for small dogs.
But Alison Cockroft, Butcher's brand manager, can see its fortunes improving as the popularity of smaller dogs grows.
She also thinks canned products will struggle in the future because the format does not lend itself to a premium image. "Everyone is looking for added value. Growth will be driven by single-serve pouches."
Peter Parkinson, MD of Town & Country Petfoods, says brands sold in more traditional formats, such as the 400g can, have lost out to products which specifically target smaller dogs, such as its HiLife Smaller Dog pouches and Masterfoods' Cesar dogfood.
The UK is also leading the way with desserts made for dogs. Town & Country Petfoods has just launched HiLife Just Desserts, a range of puddings containing real fruits, including apple, cranberries and strawberries.
Parkinson says the concept of desserts for dogs may sound strange but it has been a success in other countries such as Canada and the US.
While complete dry food seems to be the way forward, plenty of people equate their dogs' eating habits with their own. Research from BMRB shows other indulgences, such as pet insurance, are on the up - in 2003, 1.9 million households had pet cover, while that figure now stands at 2.3 million, it says - and this is affecting the way they feed their pets as well.
Pedigree Simply Select Cuts was developed with this in mind, according to brand owner Masterfoods. It describes the brand as a premium wet food that "looks and tastes good enough for owners to eat".
Affinity Petcare, which owns the Brekkies brand, says the benefits of dry food are that companies can blend more nutrients into products and it's easier and cleaner to use. Allan Huddart, UK sales manager, adds that during the past 12 months some suppliers have been pushing pouches and also trying to develop semi-moist foods to combine the benefits of both wet and dry formats.
But not everyone is convinced by all the hullabaloo.
Tom Page, sales and marketing director for Wagg Foods, says his company, which has puppy and senior products, has resisted developing too many lifestage products. It doesn't see "how manufacturers can be too specific and retailers don't have the shelf space", and Page reckons the mid-market has suffered as a result of dry dogfood's success, because "people want the reassurance of a brand".n