More than 60% of American households have pets, and the owners buy more than $14 billion worth of pet food a year. Pet food packaging has made great strides in convenience, with easy-open features, single-serve formats and portable, eat-anywhere containers.

Pet food is becoming increasingly specialized, for pets of various ages, sizes and medical conditions. This ties in to the desire of pet owners to be good “parents.” Graphics must communicate the benefits of a given brand as well as establish brand identity across different stock-keeping units.

Pet food must also reassure owners of its wholesomeness and, to a surprising degree, appeal to their taste buds. This leads to graphics that depict either the product or its ingredients (such as meat/poultry and vegetables), as well as images of happy pets. Retort pouches are firmly established in the market, and plastic film sacks are making inroads on paper.

1. Nestlé SA

Nestlé acquired Ralston Purina in 2001, combining Ralston Purina’s dry dog food products with the wet cat foods of Nestlé’s Carnation division. The combination pushed Nestlé into the No. 1 spot in American pet food. Packaging advancements include an easy-open can for Alpo dog food, new pouches for Mighty Dog and Friskies, and an award-winning portable bowl for Benefuls.

2. Mars Inc.

Mars also has built its pet food business through acquisitions, including Doane Pet Care and Nutro Products. It pioneered retortable pouches for cat food-a technology that later got transferred into rice pouches. Other innovations include a single-serve metal cup for wet cat food and a multiwall paper bag with a slider zipper for dry dog food.

3. Hill's Pet Nutrition

Hill’s Pet Nutrition products come in two categories: Science Diet, mainline pet food sold in regular retail channels, and Prescription Diet, for pets with medical conditions, available only through veterinarians and other specialty outlets. Science Diet’s packaging graphics communicate the food’s benefits to consumers. Graphics for Prescription Diet products are starker and more clinical.