In-store signage needs to remind shoppers about that cute little puppy back home

Pet ownership is a world of doting ‘parents’ and surrogate children, so purchasing decisions are laden with emotion.
Yet, unlike the babycare aisles, the petfood section in most stores is an emotional desert, according to Toby Lancaster, category marketing manager at Nestlé Purina. “There’s no ‘aaah’ factor,” he says.
Signage tends to be bland, he adds, and there’s nothing to remind shoppers about that cute little puppy or companionable old moggie back home.
Tap into that emotion and “even your E and D demographic will spend £20-£30, even though they haven’t got the money in their pockets”.
But to achieve this, he says, you need first to connect shoppers with the right food for the right animal and he suggests this needs a shake-up of the way petfood aisles are currently stocked - largely block-merchandising by brand rather than segmentation by need.
“Consumers can’t find the product they’re after,” says Lancaster. “The fixtures are not tidy and they’re not segmented well, so it’s frustrating to shop there.”
Fixtures should be organised by lifestyle and life stage, he suggests - food for kittens, for older cats, for indoor animals, and so on. “That’s how the consumer shops. They go in, first of all, to buy puppy food or kitten food. To mismatch the fixture just causes problems. If it’s clearly segmented, they have the opportunity to read and browse.”
So far, says Lancaster, the only retailer to be following this new
route is Morrisons - a point confirmed by its senior buyer, Linda Whittaker. “We’re currently undertaking a huge merchandising re-lay,” she says, “which will display our ranges in clearly segmented sectors - puppy, kitten, senior, special diet and small dog.
“By displaying the range in this way, we’ll be offering our customers a larger range of life stage lines, hopefully encouraging them to purchase the right food for their pets’ individual needs.”
The category is evolving along similar lines to human foods, towards healthy and functional products, says Lancaster, but it’s no good relying on on-pack information to steer shoppers towards alternative products. “If the aisle is bland they will just move on,” he says. Signage that reminds shoppers of the relationship between pet and owner is more likely to engage them.
Allan Huddart, UK sales manager at Brekkies maker Affinity Petcare, says products need to be faced up on-shelf so that consumers can easily read on-pack information about palatability, digestibility and nutritional benefits. And, like Nestlé Purina, he thinks communication needs to go beyond this.
“What we need is consumer education,” he says. “When I talk to buyers, their key focus is about educating shoppers about the difference between, say, premium and super-premium and then, within that, the differences between major brands.”
He continues: “I’ve been talking a lot about ‘pet talk’, which means engaging in dialogue to help consumers understand the different benefits of each pack offering. Once you have started to communicate, you can start feeding them a lot more information.”
Affinity is exploring various value-added options for connecting with shoppers, such as coupons towards security-chipping, grooming or vets’ bills - offers that are about protecting and caring for the pet.
Huddart broadly agrees with the need for clearer segmentation by need or product benefit, but believes merchandising should still start with block merchandising by brand, because “it gives your brand presence on shelf”.
“Within that, you can merchandise by type. Otherwise, within the fixture you’ll have all these different sections and you could confuse the consumer to hell.”