10 Aug 2015
Pet Sunglasses and Anxiety Toys Lure Animal Lovers to SuperZoo
This year's SuperZoo, far and away North America's largest pet fair, was the biggest on record, a perhaps unsurprising reflection of the fact that this sector is predicted to be worth more than US$60.5 billion in the US by the end of 2015.
"My Pomeranian is Smarter than the President" read one of the more popular bumper stickers at the recent SuperZoo event. In truth, if there's one thing Americans can agree upon, it's that they love their pets and are happy to express it any way they can. From pink tutus and nail polish to Doggles – dog goggles – for pooches who like to stick their head out of the car window, glitz met innovation at this most pet-friendly of trade shows.
Such excess is perhaps to be expected. After all, in 2014 Americans spent US$58.04 billion on their pets, and that number is expected to rise to $60.5 billion this year. It has grown every year over the past two decades, even during the lean recession years.
This upward trend is reflected in the growth of SuperZoo: this year the event added 23,000 square feet of exhibition space, making it the largest show to date. Commenting on the expansion of the event, Doug Poindexter, President of the World Pet Association and the show's organiser, said: "This is an exciting time for SuperZoo. The pet industry is in the midst of exponential growth, and seeing as SuperZoo is the favourite event of pet industry professionals across the nation, it's growing, too."
Beyond the usual array of leashes and carriers, the items most in demand in the world of pets mirror what's selling in the human world. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the intended user of a product is actually human or canine, with a case in point being the Snuggle Puppy.
This popular product looks like a plush pillow with a puppy face and has a beating heart, making it extra comforting to hold. At least that was the sentiment expressed by a group of retailers around the stand of Michigan-based SmartPetLove, many whom were clearly having a hard time giving back their "puppies".
Explaining its appeal, Yvonne Dickerson, the company's Sales Director, said: "It's an anxiety solution. You can hold it against your chest and feel the heartbeat. Our designers drew inspiration from children's toys and translated that into the same concept for puppies, rescue dogs and any dog that needs extra comfort.
"Puppies have a much easier time adapting to a new home when you can get their mom's smell on a Snuggle Puppy. They love the familiar scent and don't get separation issues."
Outdoor enthusiasts often like to share their passions with their dogs and that was just what Texas-based Dexas International was banking on when it developed its H-Duo Dual Hydration bottles and snack containers. Explaining the need for a bottle with two watertight chambers, John Leak, the company's Sales Director, said: "Our system ensures that you can have water for your dog in one chamber and whatever you're drinking in the other. It eliminates the need to carry a separate container for your dog. The bottle comes with a collapsible travel-sized cup, making it easy for the dog to drink. This way you don't have to pour water into your hands."
Another way to make a clear statement on the trails – or on the streets – is apparently with a custom leash sporting your pooch's portrait. Using the Design Your Own Adventure Leash service, courtesy of Ohio-based Pet Adventures Worldwide, a consumer can upload and print a custom design. The purchaser enters a code when uploading the content online and the company then ships them their laminated design with instructions as to how to attach it to the handle of the leash.
Alison Cremeans, the company's Brand Manager, said: "It can be a gift for a new pet owner or a reason by buy another leash. Some people upload images of their sports teams or trendy patterns. Alternatively, if you invest in professional photography of your pet, you might as well show it off."
Similarly, looking to pet products than can fit seamlessly into the lifestyle and homes of consumers was New York-based DogFashionLiving, a US brand with a distinctly Italian flare. Domenico Ponti, the company's owner and a former architect, sources designs from students at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. He then uses these as inspiration to create T-shirts and other items of clothing, such as matching dog and mom bathrobes.
Ponti said: "Most of our T-shirts don't have words on them. You have to be able to tell a message with a picture. Here's a woman in Paris on her bike. Instead of a loaf of French bread in her basket, why can't she have a Yorkie?"
DogFashionLiving's most popular items were its Cat Bags – an actual bag made of recycled paper and bamboo and tied at the top. A pet owner can place it horizontally or vertically and cut out an entrance for their cat, creating a cozy and fashionable hideaway. According to Ponti, several hotels are considering adopting the washable bags as a service for visiting pets.
Among the more outré items on offer at the show was Doggles, full UV protection sunglasses developed specifically for dogs. After discovering that her pet collie was unusually sensitive to light, Roni Di Lullo, a former software engineer created the Doggles concept. When images went online showing her dog's new look, she received numerous enquiries from pet owners with the same problem.
Now her California-based company – also trading as Doggles – produces five sizes and seven styles of glasses, ranging from a heavy-duty version for military and rescue dogs to tiny pink ones for pocket princesses. Di Lullo said: "At first I didn't make them to sell, but there turned out to be a real market for them. Now we also make them with prescription lenses for dogs that have had cataract surgery." This year, the style of the season is apparently "pink zebra".
Should both canine chum and owner want to enjoy an ice cream treat after a day spent catching some rays in their matching specs, Pennsylvania-based Puppy Cake may have the solution. The company offers a range of dog-friendly desserts, including maple bacon, vanilla, peanut butter and carob flavours, with all of them said to be lactose, wheat and sugar free.
According to Kelly Costello, the Founder of the business, the convenience of her products has proved a big hit with customers. Purchasers make the treats at home simply by adding hot water to a powder and providing their pets with what looks and tastes like real ice cream.
Costello said: "You don't have to rush home with it and it doesn't take up freezer space. For a really special treat, consider pairing a scoop with red velvet cake dyed with beet juice and topped with yoghurt frosting." Who would dream of serving their pampered pooch anything less?
SuperZoo 2015 was held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas from 21-23 July. With more than 22,000 pet industry retailers and distributors, it's North America's largest pet industry trade show.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas