For more analysis of pet industry trends, see information on our recent U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2015-2106 report.
In pet food as in human food, the robust growth rates of specialty channel natural products are commanding the attention of giant companies in the mass market, where sales are all-too-often flat, especially in center-store categories such as pet care. The big three mass marketers of pet food-NestlÃ© Purina, Mars and Big Heart Pet Brands-are therefore all investing heavily in the natural segment through brand reformulations, new product introductions, and acquisitions.
In December 2013, for example, mass market kingpin NestlÃ© Purina acquired Zuke’s, a specialty channel-focused natural pet treat company. In July 2014, working within its mass-market home court, NestlÃ© Purina revamped its Purina One Beyond line as Purina Beyond, renamed to distinguish itself as a natural pet food brand. Most recently, in July 2015, came the announcement of NestlÃ© Purina’s acquisition of Merrick Pet Care, a fast-growing natural and organic dog and cat food marketer whose products are distributed through the specialty pet channel, natural food supermarkets, and online.
Compared to its specialty natural pet food counterparts, Merrick Pet Care has especially focused on the humanization of pet food, in keeping with the pet humanization and pet parenting trends that have reshaped the pet products market in the U.S.
Merrick has kept its pet food line-up in sync with human nutrition trends by offering not only natural and organic but also grain-free, limited ingredient, ancestral diet, and raw formulations. Merrick has also pushed the pet pampering envelope with gourmet and often playfully retro formulations such as Cowboy Cookout, Smothered Comfort, and Grammy’s Pot Pie-All-American varieties that are balanced out by Old Country-spirited Mediterranean Banquet, French Country CafÃ©, and Brauts-n-Tots formulations. This humanization bent and playful streak extends to Merrick’s dog treats line-up, which includes Wingalings Kitchen Bites in on-trend Applewood Bacon flavor and cookie-shaped Jerky Chip Treats.
As evidenced by the just-announced acquisition of Merrick by NestlÃ© Purina, playfulness and products that work are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
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-- David Sprinkle