Published in Brand Packaging September 14, 2018

Three industry experts, including our Creative Director John Nunziato, share what it takes to create successful pet food packaging.

The U.S. pet industry reached $86 billion in 2017,* and according to a Packaged Facts report it is expected to hit $91 billion in 2019. Brand Packaging asked three industry experts how to create and grow brands in the burgeoning pet food category.

The Panel

John Nunziato
chief creative officer, Little Big Brands

Pets include a 14-year-old, one-eyed beagle; a rescued cat who only likes him about 40 percent of the time; and three backyard chickens.

Melinda Davis
group director of strategy, Spicefire

Became a cat owner 15 years ago after adopting a tabby named Scout who bestowed affection solely on her for years before reluctantly letting the rest of the family into her inner circle.

Eric Koppelman
chief revenue officer, Blue Dog Bakery

Pets include two rescue dogs: Bruno, an eight-year-old Brittany Spaniel mix who enjoys riding shotgun, and Bisou, a seven-month-old Boston Terrier mix.

BRANDPackaging: how has the pet care industry changed in the past five years? the past year?

Nunziato: It has changed dramatically in the past five years. With the empty-nester Boomer generation and people having children later in life, pets are more of a surrogate child and less of a companion. In the last year in particular, we’re seeing an even greater surge in food and products that mimic human needs and desires.

Davis: As the humanization of pets has accelerated, more pet owners want their pets to live the same healthy lifestyle that they do. Healthy food trends appear in pet food almost simultaneously with human food. While big brands continue to expand their offerings to meet these new expectations and needs, the category has been flooded with disruptive brands seeking to meet the specific and evolving demands of today’s pet parents.

Koppelman: Industry growth has been consistently strong for years, and sales are quickly approaching $90 billion annually. Specific to the dog treat space, in which we compete, the category has become unbelievably competitive. As packaged and processed human food growth has slowed, major CPGs are relying on their pet businesses to drive revenue and profitability.

Bp: what is today’s consumer looking for in a pet food brand?

Nunziato: They are looking for food that they would eat while asking the same questions: What’s in it? Is it minimally processed? Ethically sourced? Is it convenient? Does it solve for my pet’s particular needs? Does the company seem to align with my values?

Davis: Authenticity, simplicity and transparency are all table-stakes for today’s pet food brands. But beyond that, consumers have a deeper understanding of their own pet’s specific needs and seek brands that not only meet those needs but demonstrate an understanding of their unique pet. Furthermore, the expectations are that the benefits of food go beyond the basics (i.e. shinier coat, healthier teeth). Consumers want to see the same benefits and features they’ve come to expect from their own food, such as preventative care or prebiotics.

Koppelman: Consumer expectations are at an all-time high for product quality, including: human-grade ingredients, made and sourced in the USA, short ingredient lists and non-GMO. Consumers are also looking for a brand that they can connect with, relate to and values corporate social responsibility.

Bp: walk us through brand development for pet food/treats:

Nunziato: We approach our pet work by immersing ourselves in the project brief and relevant category and business intel as well as doing a deep-dive to understand what makes each brand or offering unique. For Stella & Chewy’s, we focused heavily on handcrafted elements to communicate the ingredients from the farm and ranch and care that goes into creating the brand. We were very purposeful in our font, color, imagery and messaging choices—and each play an important role. The colors are rich and culinary-based, and the illustration paints a beautiful canvas that gives the brand depth and dimension on shelf. Hand-drawn typography and illustration are the focus of the bullseye center of pack and deliver the most pertinent information, color-coding by flavor. Like any successful design, it’s a bit of logic and a bit of magic.

Davis: Just like with any new brand, it starts with the consumer. We seek to uncover and understand the powerful insight of the pet parent and use that to drive all of the brand development. Even during the early stages, we’re showing the brand on shelf, in social media, in an online retail environment. It becomes a living, breathing entity early on which helps both with buy-in and development.

Koppelman: Our packaging is extremely important to us. We’re in a constant state of product development, product evolution, packaging evolution, etc. to optimize our offerings and meet consumer and customer needs. We use color cartons for most of our biscuit products and see color as a great differentiator. Years ago we expanded into resealable packaging and found this flexible packaging is what consumers need and expect. We see packaging as the real entry point to the brand and once consumers try and love the product, we need to stay fresh to keep them interested and engaged.

Bp: what are some trends happening in pet food?:

Nunziato: Certainly raw is a theme that has exploded in the category and an opportunity to really tell a story. And functional foods (like we see for humans) are hot.

Davis: Celebrities are inundating the pet food aisles with gourmet pet food—Rachel Ray, Cesar Millan and even Ellen DeGeneres. The jury is still out on if these brands are better for our pets, but everyone is wanting a stake in the game.

Koppelman: Specific to bag packaging, last year much of the dog treat industry seemed to shift to flat bottom bags almost overnight.