Box 31 Fourlegged trends

How many times have you seen a cat prey on a chicken or, heaven forbid, a turkey? But then cat food with blackbird or field mouse doesn' t sound very discerning to a petfood shopper. Let there be no doubt that Britain's petfood shoppers are discerning and willing to show the colour of their money to satisfy their pet' s taste buds.

The dominant trend over recent years has been the humanisation of petfood. Supermarkets stock an awesome display, encompassing not just a plethora of brands but also variants. A cosseted cat can start the day with a bowl of muesli and a splash of cat milk, enjoy chicken in jelly for lunch and perhaps have some tuna for supper. Meanwhile, the family dog can enjoy beef chunks at noon and 'a complete dry meal' to round off the day. In essence, the petfood sector has expanded to cater for owners' perceptions of what their pet requires. This is echoed in pack design.

In design terms, humanisation manifests itself by mimicking the same brandbuilding cues used for human brands. For example, Trix dog snacks bear a striking visual similarity to the human treat Minstrels, or equally they could be mistaken for a beef flavour packet of crisps. Similarly the packaging of Whiskas cat milk seems to draw inspiration from Carnation long-life milk. There is also a move towards injecting 'appetite appeal' into petfood packaging, with stylised displays of the product depicted on-pack. The use of expensive illustrations and top food photographers confirms this move. It has reached the point where the only difference between human and petfood packaging is the animal images on-pack.

The way forward for packaging design in the petfood sector is to aim for the right balance between traditional petfood brand values and those of the tinned food destined for human consumption. Yes, appetite appeal is a very important sales tool in this arena, but the trade-off shouldn' t be a loss of whimsy and humour.

Source: From Petrie, 1995 by permission of Marketing Week, published by Centaur Communications (London).

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