Business and Operations
By Michelle Brisebois
By Michelle Brisebois
Catering to pets isn’t barking up the wrong tree.
A colleague of mine admitted recently that he’d waited patiently for years until his three children left home, so he could recoup his rightful place as number one in his wife’s affections. He then chuckled and said, “Imagine my surprise when it was the dog who got promoted and not me!” It’s a sign of the times. Now, more than ever, our pets – especially our canine pets, are functioning as surrogate children, and they’re enjoying the benefits of that elevated status. The Canadian pet industry is mammoth – cashing in to the tune of $4.5 billion annually. The goods news is that the bakery industry is well positioned to benefit from this opportunity. We just have to make sure we don’t roll over and play dead.
Pet trends confirm that my friend’s dog isn’t the only one enjoying the life of Riley. According to the Canadian pet supply Industry, we collectively own 3.5 million dogs and 4.5 million cats. The report also confirms that 75 per cent of us consider the family dog to be “like a child or family member” (50 per cent of us feel this way about our cats). Psychologists surmise that we’re more attached to our dogs because there are two lifestyle trends happening right now. Millions of Baby Boomers are just becoming empty nesters, as their kids finally leave home. Those kids leaving home are delaying childbirth – often until their 30s, while they get careers and housing issues settled. Both of these groups have nurturing urges, with no children to nurture, and Fido is the perfect stand-in. Pet industry statistics indicate that 80 per cent of us buy gifts for our pooches. These gifts include premium dog foods and treats, giving way to retail bakery chains popping up all over, catering to four-legged customers. Stores, with names such as “Three Dog Bakery” and “For the Love of Dog” have sprouted up all over North America. Scott Ragan is the “Chief Dog Lover,” for Three Dog Bakery. He confirms that the atmosphere and products are designed to mimic a fine pastry shop. Products include PupCakes, Scottie Biscotti, Beagle Bagels and Rollovers. These gourmet doggie treats were considered frivolous – a bit of a splurge. A “nice to have,” not a “have to have”…until Kibblegate.
Pet food supply has become front page news recently, due to the tainted pet food scandal. Mississauga-based Menu Foods came under fire after it was discovered that imported wheat containing melamine was used in pet food they’d manufactured. This has proven to be toxic to some pets ingesting the food – causing kidney failure, and even death. The official body count is currently 16 pet deaths linked to the tainted food, but estimates are putting the real number in the thousands. This story has probably gotten almost as much “ink” as the poisoned Tylenol story did years ago. If pets had died from eating toxic food 25 years ago, chances are it would have been a small article buried in the back of the newspaper. Times have changed for our four-legged friends. They’ve definitely arrived. The poisonous pet food issue has convinced some consumers to start making their own.
Book sales for “The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs” the week that ended March 25, after Menu Foods recalled more than 60 million cans of pet food, stood at 194 copies, compared with 42 the previous week. Other books about cooking for pets saw similar increases in sales (Nielsen BookScan). “Pet owners spent more than $15 billion on pet food – more than any other commodity or service including veterinary care, over-the-counter medicine, live animal purchases, and pet services” (APPMA). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the pet industry is now the seventh largest retail segment in the country. Spending on pet food is expected to jump to greater than $16 billion US in 2007, and the Mercanti group identifies the pet industry as “one of the healthiest in America, worthy of intense focus for private investors and corporations.” They feel that the trend towards humanizing pets will continue well into the future.
Take a look at your operation, and think of ways to make it more pet friendly. Introduce a couple of products to test the waters. Gourmet dog bones (try to get a cookie cutter shaped like a bone) will be easy to sample, if you tie one to the top of each regular order you sell. Just put a ribbon and small card with your logo around it, saying, “A gourmet treat for your favourite dog.” If the customer doesn’t own a dog, chances are they know one, and will pass the treat along. The word-of-mouth for your store will be great. Birthday cakes are another hot trend for dogs, with many bakeries choosing to make a giant dog cookie, personalized with “dog friendly” iced writing on top. Check out www.dog-treat-recipe-exchange.com to get some great ideas for developing your own signature line of dog delicacies.
Maybe we love our pets so much because they remind us of a part of ourselves we’ve long lost. The famous Dog Whisperer, Ceasar Millan, sums it up nicely: “Americans know how to make money – how to acquire a pair of Prada shoes – but are mostly clueless about what fulfills a dog. We can only keep trying to do better. As the saying goes, ‘I hope someday to be the person my dog thinks I am’.”
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at: