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A Weighty Matter


Health and wellness: Those words sum up a burgeoning trend in grocery retailing today — a trend that’s also making its way into the pet food market.

“As the pet industry continues to mirror human food and diet trends, pet owners are becoming more aware of the quality and source of food given to their animal companions,” according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2014 annual comprehensive report. “Pet food manufacturers are offering new varieties of food for dietary preferences, medical issues, overall health and other partialities, and pet owners are paying for these options.”

Weight issues are at the front and center of consumers’ health-and-wellness concerns. With the rise in pet obesity rates, that means pet owners are looking for products that can help them manage their animal companions’ weight, too.

“According to the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, and its 2014 Pet Obesity Study, an estimated 52.7 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, and an estimated 57.9 percent of U.S. cats are overweight or obese. This is a slight increase over their study results in 2013,” notes Paul Cooke, VP of trade and industry development at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. “So obesity appears to be a growing problem for both cats and dogs, and through our own research, we’ve found that weight can play a big role in a pet’s overall health.”

Understanding and Managing Pet Obesity

While it can be tough for your customers to tell whether their pets should lose a few pounds, there are tell-tale signs that managing their animals’ diets should be a priority, and knowing them can help you point your pet food shoppers in the right direction.

Feeling around a dog’s ribs and spine is a good place to start. “You should be able to locate both with only a thin layer of flat separating the skin from the bones,” information from WebMD Pet Health Center instructs. “If you can’t find the ribcage, you have an overweight dog.”

Determining a pet’s optimal weight, which vets can help do, is also key. “Dogs are considered to be overweight when they weigh 10 percent to 20 percent above their ideal body weight. They’re considered obese when they weigh more than 20 percent above their ideal body weight,” notes information from VCA Animal Hospitals, a network of 600 animal hospitals in 42 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces.

Addressing weight issues is important because extra weight can have serious effects on a pet’s quality of life, including breathing problems, heat stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease. Purina’s 14-year lifespan study, published in 2001, revealed just how important a healthy weight is.

“Findings included that dogs fed to a lean body condition throughout their lives had a median life span nearly two years longer than overweight dogs and a later onset of chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis,” asserts Cooke.

Retailers’ Role

How important is it for retailers to carry a selection of products designed for customers with overweight pets? The importance is growing, right along with the number of plump pets. Manufacturers are stepping up with products specifically designed to help retailers meet the demand for weight control and maintenance products.

Among the items appearing on store shelves: Iams ProActive Health Adult Weight Control, Iams Healthy Naturals Weight Management with Chicken, Pedigree Healthy Weight Food for Dogs, Purina Dog Chow Light & Healthy, Purina One Smart-Blend Healthy Metabolism wet cat foods, and Purina Cat Chow Healthy Weight formula.

“Since more than 50 percent of pets in the U.S. are overweight, these weight management formulas most definitely fill a critical consumer need,” says Cooke. “The challenge retailers may face is in convincing consumers that their pet is overweight in the first place, and needs to switch to a lower-calorie diet. In fact, in June 2014, Dog Chow Light & Healthy surveyed U.S. dog owners on the topic and found that there is a big gap between dog owner perception and reality.”

Educating customers about how weight issues can impact their pets, and the steps they can take to improve their pet’s health, is one way retailers can tap into this growing segment of the pet category.

“This communication can be done at shelf, but is likely more effective through a larger 360-degree marketing campaign from the manufacturers,” Cooke suggests.

“The challenge retailers may face is in convincing consumers that their pet is overweight in the first place, and needs to switch to a lower-calorie diet.”
—Paul Cooke, Nestlé Purina PetCare

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