What the old dogs of the pet industry can do to fend off the Third Wave of Pet

What the old dogs of the pet industry can do to fend off the Third Wave of Pet

Can an old dog learn new tricks?

As we’ve attended the Global Pet Expo and Superzoo over the last few years, this question has been nipping at the heels of the Pet Industry's largest and most prestigious brands as they watch a new, disruptive generation of pet brands dogpile into the industry. Made by Nacho, Native Pet, Kindfull, Maev, Roosevelt, Zesty Paws, Ollie, KatKin, Cat Person, Finn, and Fera are just some of the companies making up what we’re calling the Third Wave of Pet Brands.

This new generation of pet brands look, sound and act differently from the conventional forefathers of the Pet Industry (Hills, Royal Canin, Purina, Nutro, Pedigree, Milkbone, Iams, FreshStep, FancyFeast) and even the second wave of natural pet brands (Blue Buffalo, Wellness, Stella & Chewy, Fresh Pet, The Honest Kitchen, Open Farm).

These Third Wave brands forgo the overtly big brand look embodied by heavy logo-lockups, stock-like pet imagery and monolithic brand colors across all SKUs. While the individual brands will vary in their degrees of fun, playfulness, cleanliness, freshness and color - they all are highly distinctive and utilize emerging design trends as a signal to consumers that these brands have something new to say. Design’s ability to change the narrative and attract new audiences is clearly on display in this Third Wave. It caused many marketers and CEO’s of leading brands to take note of these new shiny objects in the industry. 

Through social media, e-comm, digital advertising and DTC these brands excel at connecting and creating a lifestyle brand out of what can often feel simply like a pet product. While disruptive, many of these new brands have not invested in the scientific research and validation of their products compared to established brands.

Interestingly the highest trust amongst pet brands lies with companies like Purina, Nutro, Hills and others who have the funding, studies and data to back their ingredients, nutrients and efficacy. So while the Third Wave has utilized innovative design and distinctive positioning to have a seat at the dog or cat bowl, product performance remains the ultimate driver of brand value, as consumers prioritize function and efficacy alongside price. 

So what does this mean?

The big incumbent pet brands have the benefits of greater consumer trust, scientifically-backed products, higher household pet-a-traition, distribution and greater brand awareness. What they lack is the modern aesthetic, messaging and brand behavior to appeal to consumers whose identities are intrinsically tied to their pet-centric lifestyles. Thus they have the opportunity to bridge this expanding market divide with the new brands through strategic brand refreshes as a means of better aligning with shifting consumer desires. But the time to act is now as the young pups of the Third Wave are growing hungry for market share and will soon put the big brands in the consumer dog house of irrelevance.

In the US alone, 66% of current households own a pet, thanks in part to the Covid surge of pet adoption. The average pet parent spends about $4,800 a year on their furry friend, according to new research (Conducted by OnePoll for MetLife Pet Insurance). This year, pet parents spent about $633 on food for their pets — but even more on treats ($645). The pet industry spans beyond food and treats and has had so many innovations like non-toxic recyclable toys from brands like West Paw, even Gucci has released a pet line including leashes, collars, dog furniture, and clothing. 

With pet ownership and spend projected to continue to rise, the old dogs of the industry have more to gain than ever by learning a few new tricks to stay young and lively with the consumers.

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