Pet Foods aim to Keep ‘FIDO’ fit

by Kate Bertrand
Packaging for natural and fortified pet foods uses graphics that call out the health benefits and structures that ‘billboard’ the brand.  
Consumers’ increasing focus on nutrition and functional foods is intersecting with the movement to treat pets more like the human members of the family. The result is a growing market for premium pet foods that offer special nutritional, nutraceutical or functional properties.
Statistics from market research publisher Packaged Facts show the number of new pet foods promoting “high vitamin” content grew 94 percent in 2003, and the number of pet foods packaged as “natural” nearly doubled from 2002 to 2003. The pet food market recorded overall sales of $13.1 billion in 2003, the researcher reports.
“People are taking better care of their pets. The pet owners want them to look and feel better, and it would be nice if they would even live longer because of good health. Then the pet can be your companion longer,” says Lee Sucharda, Jr., Chairman of Design North, a brand identity firm. “The pet is a member of the family, and many people treat them that way.”
To convey the nutritional and natural qualities and to differentiate their pet foods, treats and supplements from the growing ranks of competitors, pet food marketers are using distinctive package graphics together with structures such as contoured canisters and stand-up bags and pouches.
Fun look, serious treats
In updating the packaging for its Whisker Lickin’s cat treats, Nestle Purina PetCare changed the package structure, label and graphics. The new structure is a contoured, easy-to-hold high-density polyethylene (HDPE) container with a full-body shrink label. This replaces a straight-wall container with a paper label and plastic cap.
Graphics on the sleeve label feature a cartoon drawing of a cat, for product distributed in the United States, and a photograph of a cat, for product sold in Canada.
On packaging for Whisker Lickin’s Tartar Control, a prominent banner on the front of the package signals the oral-care benefit. Alcoa Flexible Packaging supplies the shrink labels.
Nestle Purina is not alone in using a “friendly” illustration on the label to soften scientific/nutritional product positioning, particularly on pet treats and drinks. For example, K9 Water Co., which sells vitamin-fortified bottled water for dogs, uses label graphics that feature a cartoon of a happy puppy with his tongue hanging out.
“We designed it this way because we wanted it to stand out, and we wanted it to look fun,” says Don Magier, K9’s CEO. The company named its product flavors with an eye to whimsy, as well. Flavors include Gutter Water (beef), Toilet Water (chicken), Puddle Water (Liver) and Hose Water (lamb).
Best Label Co. supplies K9 Water with pressure-sensitive labels, and Veriplas Containers provides PET bottles for the product line. The 16.9-ounce bottles are tinted blue, both for visual appeal and to keep the vitamins from deteriorating.
Fun is the theme for Whiskas Temptations Tartar Control cat treats, too. The product comes in a 2.1-ounce metallized stand-up pouch, and packaging graphics include a drawing of a cat brushing its teeth. Processed in Canada for Kal Kan Foods, the package includes bilingual copy in English and French.
And graphics on the flexible, fin-seal package for American Nutrition Atta Boy Vita Snacks include a cartoon figure of a bulldog. The artwork also bears a round seal, printed in metallic gold ink, touting the product’s “12 Essential Vitamins.”
Stand-up bags
Although packaging graphics for the new generation of “good-for-your-pet” foods isn’t as playful as the imagery on treat packaging, it is often bold and colorful. The goal is to stand out on the shelves of mass-market and pet specialty stores. Many treats come in stand-up pouches. Pet foods are taking a cue from treats, as more of them switch to stand-up pouches or bags.
According to Jim Glassford, Vice President of Marketing at Kaytee Products Inc., “Treats have been in stand-up pouches for a while, but there definitely is a trend now to move the foods into stand-up bags” that hold one to five pounds.
Kaytee sells food for birds and small animals, and all Kaytee’s products emphasize nutrition. The company “form-fill-and-seals” stand-up bags for several brands, including Timothy Complete, Fusion, Fiesta, Forti-Diet and Exact Rx. Design North worked with Kaytee to define the packaging look and feel.
Kaytee’s stand-up bags enable retailers to display packages vertically, rather than lying flat. The result is a greater “billboard” at point of sale.
Manufacturers of premium food for more common pets like dogs and cats face the same challenge: Making an impression at retail in the face of increasing competition. For these packagers, color and icons that communicate to consumers from across the store play a key role.
Icons broadcast brand
Procter & Gamble’s Eukanuba and Iams brands both carry the distinctive paw print icon on every package. Standard Eukanuba cat and dog food sells in pet specialty stores, Eukanuba Veterinary Diets distribute through veterinarians and Iams merchandises through the mass market.
Packaging for standard Eukanuba carries the distinctive vertical rhodamine pink stripe, and graphics include the specific product formula and Vital Health System communication, which shows six icons representing parts of the animal’s body.
The Vital Health System is “a way to communicate to consumers the targeted health benefits of Eukanuba food, with icons for health systems such as teeth, digestive system and joints,” explains Darin Westrich, Global Design Manager at Procter & Gamble.
P&G recently introduced a Eukanuba line extension. Packaging for the dry product, called Eukanuba Natural Lamb and Rice, incorporates the paw print icon, Vital Health System box and rhodamine stripe.
The use of a script typeface for the Lamb & Rice descriptor differentiates the line extension from standard Eukanuba, as does the package’s earth-tone background color. Both choices communicate the product’s natural positioning.
The background colors on standard Eukanuba packaging, chosen from a dark palette to convey premium quality, are black (Adult), green (Senior) and purple (Puppy). The background color for Eukanuba Veterinary Diets is white, for a professional look.
Another premium brand, Pro Pac, also uses icons and color to communicate brand identity and attract consumers at retail. Midwestern Pet Foods Inc., Pro Pac’s brand owner, uses a large dog-face icon on its dog food packaging. The icon for Pro Pac cat food is a pair of cat eyes.
Background colors include bright yellow, pink, teal, green, purple and red, depending on the species and formulation. For Pro Pac Earthborn Holistic premium dog food, a recent line extension, the company chose colorful photography of flowers, fruits and vegetables as the background imagery.
“Most of the time with holistic and natural foods you see the tans and browns, but the packaging for our whole line is bright. To make Earthborn Holistic fit with our other packaging, we needed to make it bright and still reflect nature,” says Cindy Montgomery, Vice President of Marketing at Midwestern Pet Foods. BP
The author, Kate Bertrand, is a San Francisco-based writer specializing in packaging, business and technology. Contact her at
Two-Part treatment makes dogs Smile
Paralleling the trend toward healthier foods for pets is the movement toward preventive veterinary care. Veterinary health companies such as Merial Ltd. are developing a variety of new products to help vets take better care of pets’ health, including their teeth.
“Dentistry is the fastest growing branch of veterinary medicine. It’s expanding rapidly as more and more veterinarians are gaining the skills needed to treat dental problems,” says Don Schwartz, Merial’s Senior Director of Business Development.
Merial teamed up with The Bailey Group to develop the brand identity, packaging and delivery system for OraVet, a first-in-category oral healthcare product for dogs. OraVet is a two-step system for preventing the formation of plaque and tartar.
Initially, the veterinarian applies OraVet sealant to the gum line of the pet after cleaning its teeth. At home, the pet owner applies a second product, OraVet gel, to the dog’s teeth weekly.
Packaging includes the kit for veterinarians, with applicator gun and 30 cartridges of OraVet sealant. These items are packed in a polypropylene case with the teal OraVet logo molded into the exterior.
Packaging for the home-care kit is a folding carton that contains eight gel applications, each packed in its own 2.5 cc molded plastic tray with foil lidding.
“OraVet came out of a human dentistry heritage, and we built the packaging around that,” says Chris Bailey, President, The Bailey Group. “The packaging has a very professional and ethical look and feel, but a contemporary appearance, as well.”
Bags exhibit good karma
Natura Pet Products Inc. gives new meaning to “a dog’s life.” The company prides itself on making wholesome human-grade pet foods using quality meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and vitamin/mineral supplements. Natura’s packaging resonates that positioning.
For example, to package its Karma brand dog food and treats, the company chose packaging that was not only “environmentally friendly” but also imparts the fact that Karma products are 95 percent organic.
“The goal was to create something that would reflect the three tenets of the Karma brand: Good for the soul, good for the environment and good for the body,” explains Paul French, Natura’s Marketing Director. Karma food and treats are baked products.
To address the “good-for-the-environment” tenet, the company chose bags made from 100 percent virgin high-density polyethylene, which is fully recyclable. Although the company would have preferred a biodegradable package, requirements such as product protection, sealability and bag strength dictated plastic. Genpak Superbag Division supplies and prints the square-bottom bags.
Package graphics communicate the products’ natural-foods status. Deep green background colors and imagery of a magnified leaf provide a nature motif with an upscale look.
Where to go for more information...
- Shrink-sleeve labels. At Alcoa Flexible Packaging, contact Terry Copenhaver at 804.281.2395 or
- Brand identity and package design. At Design North, contact Lee Sucharda at 262.898.1087 or    
- PET bottles. At Veriplas Containers, contact Michael Bennage at 501.562.7781 or
- Pressure-sensitive labels. At Best Label Company, contact Travis Gilkey at 510.489.5400 or