It’s no secret pet owners view their animals as children. Some of us try to keep this in check; others go full-blown crazy and leave their estates entirely to a dog. No judgment if you are one of the latter. Okay, a little judgment. However, both camps want their pets to live long, healthy, fun-filled lives, and brands should use their packaging to help customers see their products can meet that desire.
PetfoodIndustry.com recently ran an article on pet food packaging redesigns, where design agency Ideas That Kick’s executive creator Stefan Hartung detailed five steps for brands looking to create a new package design for pet food. Click over to see his suggestions, which include advice on creating an emotional connection.
Seeing Hartung’s advice got me thinking about my cats’ various brands of food. I headed into Healthy Dogma, my local independent pet food store, to get its input on packaging. The retailer carries high-quality national brands as well as its own line of food, treats, and supplements that it sells in house and to distributors across the country. In addition, Healthy Dogma private labels its products for a variety of stores and organizations throughout North America.
IT’S WHAT’S INSIDE THAT COUNTS … AT FIRST
Packaging doesn’t play a large part in determining what brands the store carries, says Tom Peters, CEO and brand owner, Healthy Dogma. He focuses on ingredient lists, origin of those ingredients, and where the product is made. He then looks at carrying a range of price points to help customers have affordable options for their budget. However, Peters acknowledges that for customers, packaging plays a much larger role in purchasing.
“We are good about speaking to each customer when they come in about their pets: age, any physical issues they have, dietary restrictions, allergies,” says Peters. “We want to help our customers make the best food choice for their pet. But sometimes while they are shopping, customers will see a new package on the shelf and ask about it. They want to know what is in the product, why we carry it, and if they should switch.”
Interestingly, though the store only carries healthy pet food, the category takes very few “natural” cues from the human health market. Most of the major players in this field—Acana, Orijen, Now, Zignature, and more—go the route of colorful, bold, or modern, clean designs.
THE POWER OF ON-BRAND DESIGN
For the brand’s own line of products, packaging has been key in Healthy Dogma’s success.
“Our packaging is what has gotten us this far,” says Peters. “Our ingredients and sourcing are awesome, but it’s our designs people see that make them pick up the treats or food.”
The brand works with two independent graphic designers on the art for its labels for supplement bottles and flexible treat bags as well as its printed cups and standup pouches. The cheerful designs feature Zenny the dog, the brand’s mascot, and other illustrated animals and scenes to depict flavors. Peters comes up with the initial ideas for the art, and then calls up his designers to execute it.
“We also have a sister brand, K9 Critical Care, for dogs with serious issues,” says Peters. “That line has a more serious look to match.”
Muted tones, less playful illustrations of dogs, and a more subdued font choice sit beneath the Healthy Dogma masterbrand on the packaging for K9 Critical Care’s products.
“We want customers to see the packaging and know the product will work,” says Peters. “We want them to know they can trust our products and feel comfortable giving them to their pet.”
PACKAGING AS A GROWTH CATALYST
Because of Healthy Dogma’s packaging and Peters’ willingness to create new labels or cups for any occasion, the brand has been featured numerous times in BarkBox, a subscription service for dogs. Peters has sourced new paperboard structures specifically to meet a request from the company, and can have a label designed and printed in just weeks. Though the brand isn’t printing its packaging digitally at this time, companies looking to have similar capabilities may want to look into it for the speed and cost-saving benefits.
Peters handles private label requests with the same attention to speed and detail, and the brand has been rewarded for it.
“Our initiative in creating new and custom packaging—plus our flexibility in introducing new treat flavors to match—has been huge for us,” says Peters. “It’s brought us a lot of new business as well as loyal customers.”
Brands of any size in any industry must have packaging that interests and connects with their target audience. In the pet food market especially, customers want packaging that assures them of ingredient quality and food safety and freshness. Pet owners want to feel like they are buying the best they can for their pets—brands, do your part by matching the quality level of what is inside the bag to your marketing. Packaging isn’t a magic bullet, but it will get people to take notice of your product at shelf and may help you get your small-brand foot in retailers’ doors.