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Pet Food Packaging

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Webinar November 14, 2013
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Pet Food Packaging

Shikatani Lacroix conducted a packaging audit of popular pet food brands and an online survey of pet owners to determine key trends and consumer insights in pet food packaging.

This webinar discusses:

  • An audit of 45 pet food brands
  • Key trends and consumer insights
  • Purchase drivers
  • Packaging health claims

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Webinar Transcript

Jean-Pierre: Hi. I’m Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and thank you very much for joining us at today’s session of Design Lounge. Today, we’re going to be talking about pet food packaging, the importance of different design elements on the packaging. And it’s all based on a study we just completed, and some great insights on what influences purchase and the things that you can do to improve your packaging. I have with me Sydney McMurter who is actually the researcher that put the study together.

Sydney: Yes. Hi. And this is our friend, Molly, here. We love dogs here at Shikatani Lacroix, and she’s here to help us present the research.

Jean-Pierre: Well, great. Welcome, Molly. Obviously, the pet food category is growing at an enormous rate. People are spending more money for their pets now who are part of the family now. Why did we do the research, and what were some of what we were looking for out of the study?

Sydney: So we conducted a packaging audit of 45 key brands to look at the designs in the industry, and then we also were interested in consumer insights. So we conducted an online survey of 545 US pet owners, and looked at how important health claims were, what elements they look for when making their purchase decision, and specific claims, what were important, and credibility as well.

Jean-Pierre: It sounds like an exhaustive study. So talk to me a little bit about some of the insights that came out of…let’s start with your audit, your brand audit. Did you do it across all of those different pet brands? This is significant.

Sydney: Okay. So when we did our packaging audit, we looked at the different approaches and plotted them on a brand positioning chart. So the brands really differed in terms of tone. So some were very playful, emotional, and at the other end of the spectrum was a scientific credible look. In the middle would be an ingredient-focused look, and then the other dimension would be what the product looks like. So some looked very healthy, some looked very tasty, and some was in the middle. We also found a lot of packaging mirrored human food. So sometimes, you couldn’t tell that it was pet food.

Jean-Pierre: Wow, that must have been confusing in the store shelf.

Sydney: Right.

Jean-Pierre: Well, so you’ve broken down these package designs and messaging, and based on those quadrants, and mapped them out. Is there any insights on what you saw was the most effective?

Sydney: Well, there was a lot of packaging that was in the healthy and scientific look, and a lot in the playful and tasty. There was a white space, I would say, in the tasty and scientific, so those two are more difficult to combine.

Jean-Pierre: So if you were a brand marketer, that would be the white space that currently no one really owns in the marketplace.

Sydney: Yes, [inaudible 00:03:36].

Jean-Pierre: And why do you think that’s the case? Why wouldn’t you expect brands to be playing in that quadrant?

Sydney: Just traditionally, it’s two concepts in your head. A very clinical kind of product, it’s difficult to be tasty as well, so that would be a challenge for designers.

Jean-Pierre: Or marketers.

Sydney: Or marketers.

Jean-Pierre: Yeah, designers also. I can just imagine what the brief looks like, “We want it tasty, and we want it to look scientific with a lot of health claims. Can you make that work?”

Sydney: Right.

Jean-Pierre: I think there’s a place for that. So when you’re looking at the research, talk to me a little bit about some of the packages and some of the observations you had.

Jean-Pierre: Okay. So in particular we saw a shift towards adding playful elements into packaging. So on the left here of this graphic, they added an image of a cat under a blanket; playful. It really underlines the emotional connection that pet owners have with their pets, so it really allows consumers to connect to that packaging. And on the right here, some emotional words were added into the background, so happy, smile, adventure on the Beneful packaging.

Jean-Pierre: Well, Sydney, the study [inaudible 00:04:56] got into some of the purchase behaviors for the category. And we are talking strictly right now about pet food, but strictly about dog pet food. Am I correct?

Sydney: Dog and cat.

Jean-Pierre: Dog and cat, okay. So it is both dog and cat pet food. Talk to me a little bit about some of the insights we have on how consumers buy these products in the stores.

Sydney: So we found that consumers vary in how important health information is when they’re making their purchase decision. So approximately 30% of consumers rarely or sometimes notice health information. So they’re not even interested in that. They don’t have time, perhaps. Twenty five percent read most health information, 27% look for key health words or symbols, and 18% thoroughly read all health information. So these audiences differ, and packages then would have to represent that.

Jean-Pierre: Now, I was reading the research, and I found it interesting that although this is prevalent on how they look at the packaging, that there are nuances depending on if you’re buying the package in a pet food specialty retailer versus a supermarket. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Sydney: Right. So at the two ends of the spectrum, the one group that is not concerned with health information, and the other that thoroughly reads all health information. The first group, we found that there is a higher proportion of people that shop at a grocery or retail store. So in those types of stores, it’s a quicker decision so you’d really need to catch people immediately. In the other category where it’s a pet food store or an independent store, consumers are gonna really take time to read health information so that needs to be represented on the pack.

Jean-Pierre: So what you’re saying is that if I’m designing a package in my primary channel of distribution, a specialty pet food retail, that I have to put a lot more emphasis on information to help make the buying decision for the customer. Whereas if from a supermarket, it’s much more of an impulse purchase, it’s much more of a quick decision. Did we notice any differences on the importance of the brand mark and brand name in how they buy these products? Obviously, if you’re in the supermarket, is the brand mark playing a much more important role than if you’re in a specialty retail?

Sydney: Yes. Well, you’re catering to two different types of audiences. So a consumer that’s gonna quickly pick something up the shelf , the brand mark needs to be very visible. But it would be not as important in the independent retailer or pet food store as they’re looking for health information more.

The category that doesn’t look for health information as much are mainly concerned with looking for pet food that their pet will enjoy. So either they’ve purchased it in the past, and they know their pet likes it, or it looks very tasty to them, that’s their main purchase driver.

Jean-Pierre: So Sydney, you know, we always look at what drives the purchase, what’s the purchase decision process customers go through when they’re looking at pet food for cat and dog pet food. So what did the research identify that purchase decision tree?

Sydney: It was important that we looked at this information so that we knew what to emphasize and form a communication hierarchy. So we found that the first element that consumers look for is type of animal; so cat, dog, a specific breed. And then the next was brand and product type, so a certain brand or dry food, wet food. And then the next one would be nutritional and ingredient information. That’s the third item.

The consumers that aren’t as interested in health information or don’t have the time to look for all the health information might stop at level two, which is brand and product type, and then make their purchase decision.

Jean-Pierre: So obviously, this purchase decision tree is dependent also on the channel distribution. What you’re saying is that if I’m in a specialty retail channel, the odds are I will go through all three steps. I’ll definitely look at the type of pet. I’ll look at what brand it is, and then I’ll look at the nutritional information.

Sydney: Right.

Jean-Pierre: Does any of these sequences change depending on the channel? In other words, does nutritional ingredient information play a more important role versus brand and product type?

Sydney: This is the average purchase decision for all consumers. However, it’s just…the difference is some consumers are willing to spend more time looking for information. Some just don’t have the time so they wouldn’t follow through with the whole process.

Jean-Pierre: Most studies, you know, 50% of all buying decisions are done emotively. And how the package makes you feel drives a lot of why you would pick that brand versus another brand. And have we seen any kind of correlation of that kind of purchase behavior with the study?

Sydney: Well, we found that a lot of brands had a certain design approach that would really attract consumers to think of their pet or how they feel about their pet specifically, so really develop an emotional connection with the brand immediately.

So certain ways that brands would do this is through emotional imagery that would make them think of their pet and how they love their pet, or a playful approach which would make them smile and think about their connection with their pet, as well as certain needs that their pet may have if it’s a clinical health product. So there is different approaches that would really hook consumers in.

Jean-Pierre: And when you look at the market leaders and you look at some of these key drivers that came out of your study, are there more prevalent drivers that the dominant players in the marketplace use?

Sydney: Yes. We found that the brands that had a lot of success had either playful imagery or emotional imagery. So it all ties into the insight that pet food is an emotional decision.

Jean-Pierre: So you look at health claims, and you look at…you know, every category, food category today talks about health claims [inaudible 00:11:26], you know, better for your heart, better for your blood, better for your mind. And we’re starting to see these significant trends that come from human food being applied to pet foods. So any insights there about what’s working and what do consumers really pay attention to?

Sydney: We found that the major purchase driver is food that my pet will enjoy, that consumers’ pets will enjoy. So that can be represented by the fact that consumers are looking for appetite appeal or that they are looking for food they’ve purchased in the past that they know their pet likes. So that was surprising that healthy and natural wasn’t the top purchase driver, it was the second purchase driver. And then the next one was a friendly and positive look, and the final one was credible and scientific.

Jean-Pierre: So the fact-based rational side of the brand actually did less, was less effective in driving purchases than those that were tied to appetite appeal and the health dimension, the ingredient story of the product.

Sydney: Yeah. So that information can be read that the credible and scientific packaging is not as emotional as the other types of approaches.

Jean-Pierre: Maybe that’s an opportunity for those packages that have position or brand is very scientific that they’re really missing that emotive side of the brand that it’s functionally based. So Sydney, when they are looking for healthy cues for their pet food, you know, what are they looking for?

Sydney: So we found that the main design elements that make consumers perceive a package as healthy are ingredient lists and health checklists. So those are key elements to include on a package. And also a protein claim was the most important ingredient claim as well as complete nutrition and no artificial preservatives.

Jean-Pierre: So those are important claims that the packaging should actually be…if legitimately they can make those claims, they should have it on the packaging.

Sydney: Yes.

Jean-Pierre: Health claims are everywhere. Talk a little bit about…they’re very prevalent in the food we eat. We’re seeing more and more of them on pet food packaging. What’s the reaction from consumers about the credibility of health claims? That was one of the key questions we asked ourselves when we started the survey is, you know, do people really believe the health claims on pet food packaging?

Sydney: So what was surprising was we found out that over half of consumers didn’t completely trust health claims. So that tells us that something needs to support health claims on packaging. We found that detailed information on packaging made it seem credible regardless if people read it. More copy, more claims meant that the packaging looked more credible. Even the group that didn’t pay attention to health claims, they still perceived the packaging with more claims on it to be more credible. And we also found out that if a vet-recommended claim is on packaging, it increases the credibility dramatically, and it was the highest rated credibility claim.

Jean-Pierre: It’s interesting. This mirrors very much health products in pharmacies where the pharmacist actually drives a lot of the credibility of the brand. So we’re seeing, I guess, the same parallels in pet food. So the doctors, the vets drive a lot of that credibility, but you’re saying 50% of consumers actually don’t believe in the health claims.

Sydney: Yes. They have some degree of uncertainty about the truth behind it.

Jean-Pierre: I think that that’s an opportunity for marketers to support their health claims and ensure that they have fact-based information; either it’s research or it’s endorsement by veterinarians, or it’s reference to those ingredients’ benefits to human health. Because obviously, the point of reference for taste is how we perceive taste as humans.

We talked a lot about the purchase decision tree, and I noticed that in this category, brands play an important role [inaudible 00:15:40] second point between the type of animal to the next…so talk a little about brand equity and brands, and the importance of those.

Sydney: So in our research, we found that brand loyalty is very high in this category. Consumers will purchase what their pet likes and what they trust, and they’ll keep doing that for long periods of time. So it’s important that consumers looking for a particular brand that it has a look that can be easily identified on shelf; so bright, ownable colors and a large, visible brand name.

Jean-Pierre: It’s all different in a lot of other categories where brand is supporting the purchase decision, but is not the key driver. In this case, it is the key driver in the selection. That would tell me that it’s a little bit harder to switch a consumer at the shelf level from one brand to the other whereas in other categories that we work with, brand switching because consumers come in, they don’t have a shopping list. They don’t have a preconceived idea of what they’re buying, which is what this research is showing is that they are coming to the store with a specific brand in mind. Am I correct?

Sydney: Yes, that’s often the case.

Jean-Pierre: So looking at this research, you know, what advice would you give the audience about aligning the research insights that we have seen in the study to how they should be conducting their package design and brand exercises for pet food?

Sydney: I think, first, you would need to determine an appropriate brand position, and have your packaging reflect that. So what type of audience are you catering towards? One that’s going to read health information thoroughly or not concerned? One that’s looking for a very healthy product or a very tasty product? What we found out is there’s a great deal of variety in the type of consumer, so it needs to be a targeted approach, targeted initiative.

Jean-Pierre: So when you look at design and hierarchy of communication, you talked a little bit about a number of health claims and supporting facts. So talk to me a little bit about where’s the relevancy of that on the front panel.

Sydney: Yeah. The second item would be to emphasize purchase drivers, so include the important health information that we determined. So include things like protein, complete nutrition, no artificial preservatives, as well as emphasizing the communication hierarchy so that it aids in the purchase decision process, and emphasize recognizability as well.

Jean-Pierre: What do you mean by recognizability?

Sydney: So a very unique-looking package that can easily be identified.

Jean-Pierre: So differentiation at shelf-level is very important.

Sydney: Yes.

Jean-Pierre: Well, Sydney, thank you very much for joining us, and also thank you for joining us at today’s session of Design Lounge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our session today; a lot of great insights on how you can improve your pet food packaging. And we’re here for the next 15 minutes answering any questions you have or may have. Just look at the right or left side of the screen where you’ll see a phone number. Call us. We’re here to answer any questions, and we look forward to next session of Design Lounge. Thank you very much for joining us.

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