By Mark Lutgens, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Crown Food Packaging North America
Consumers continue to treat their pets like members of their family, so it is no surprise that pet spending in the U.S. was up nearly 25 percent from $58 billion in 2014 to more than $72 billion in 2018, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey. The study projected that sales would grow another 4 percent in 2019, bringing spending to approximately $75 billion.
The survey indicates that food makes up the largest portion of consumer spending, accounting for approximately 40 percent of sales, with premium pet foods purchased most frequently in the U.S. market followed by generic and natural pet foods. Premiumization has manifested itself in several ways, including organic and natural categories, products that are “free from” wheat, artificial colors, fillers or other byproducts or options that support special diets or health needs for pets – beyond the traditional segmentation of formulas for different life stages or breeds.
The trend toward premiumization is directly impacting pet food pricing. Figures from Euromonitor indicate that despite dollar growth of 6 percent in 2018, global volume sales grew less than 3 percent. At the same time, premium dog and cat food continued to be the fastest-growing price tier in the industry, rising nearly 7 percent in 2018. Against this backdrop, packaging has become more critical than ever, challenging pet food manufacturers to deliver the quality and convenience that consumers expect when paying higher price points.
Metal packaging offers a number of processing, marketing and convenience features that make it an ideal format to communicate this sense of luxury and value to consumers. For example, it serves as a strong barrier against light and oxygen, offering superior shelf life and protecting flavor longer than any other packaging material. The rigidity of food cans ensures that its contents are not damaged during production and distribution processes and reach consumers in optimum condition, helping brands maintain an image of high quality.
Convenience is another area where metal packaging excels as a format. Easy-open ends are the ultimate in convenient consumer packaging, eliminating the need for can openers and making packages instantly portable. Easy-open ends are judged according the following features: tab access to lift the tab, pop force to pierce the score, tear force to initiate the peel and peel force to remove the panel. These forces are particularly important, as they define whether the consumer feels – and actually is – in control during opening. The lower the force required, the more likely it is to be accepted by consumers. The continued innovation in easy-open end technology has made a major impact by bridging the gap between the durability attributes of cans and consumer expectations for easy-to-open packaging.
A final way that metal packaging can support premium pet food brands is through its sustainability credentials. In an April 2019 Omnibus study of more than 21,000 U.S. households, global measurement and data analytics company Nielsen found that products that are environmentally friendly and use recycled packaging resonate most strongly with consumers overall. The demand for this attribute has carried into the pet food industry, with many consumers of the mindset that what is good for them is good for their pets. Metal packaging shines in this arena since its raw materials, aluminum and steel (formed from iron), are abundant. In addition, unlike many other materials, metal is 100 percent recyclable, recycled at high levels and can be recycled infinitely in a material-to-material loop, helping power the circular economy.
About the Author
Mark Lutgens has over 25 years of experience in the packaging industry, holding roles in sales and marketing, general management, new product development and innovation. In his current position, Lutgens oversees all sales and marketing activities for Crown’s Food Packaging North America business unit.