Want pet parents to pick up new products? Offer a sample

Michael Browne

Pet ownership is booming, and with that growth, so is the demand for pet food, treats, grooming products, supplements, toys — you name it, pet parents are in the market for it.

Two-thirds of American households own a pet in 2024 — that’s 86.9 million homes with at least one dog (65.1 million) or cat (46.5 million), according to data from the American Pet Products Association, including a 10% increase in pet ownership during the pandemic years of 2020-22.

And as pet ownership has increased, so has consumer spending on pet items, which hit $147 billion in the U.S. in 2023.

That’s a big number, and predictably, where there’s a big and growing market, competition among brands seeking to get their products in front of pet parents is intense.

A key lever more of them are pulling? Sampling. With some 91% of shoppers crediting sampling and product demonstration with shaping their buying decisions, data clearly show the strategy helps convert shoppers into buyers, according to a recent retailer study conducted on behalf of Advantage Solutions.

But unlike a sampling program for a new brand of chips or a new flavor of sparkling water, which a consumer can try during a regular shopping trip, executing a sampling for pets requires a distinctly different set of considerations.

“It’s not like I’m trying the product, right?” says Nick Gendron, senior director of business development at Advantage Solutions, which provides omnichannel sampling experiences across e-commerce, lifestyle and retail platforms.

Gendron, who is one of many Americans who brought a dog into his home during the pandemic, adds, “It’s not the same as me getting a beverage and tasting it for myself and deciding whether I like it or not.”

Since consumers are not physically trying the product themselves, these brands have the additional layer of educating consumers properly about the sample to the point where they feel comfortable giving it to their pet — and buying it again.

“Pet ownership and consumer spending on pet products continues to rise,” says Alan Verdun, executive vice president of client services at Advantage. “With that comes the need for new products from our pet-product clients that need to be supported. Many of the sampling or brand experiences that we create for these clients relate to product education and new innovation.”

Advantage, which boasts the No. 1 experiential marketing business in the U.S. for a decade and running, supports a growing number of pet product manufacturers by finding creative and innovative ways to get their products into the hands of shoppers. That includes venue-based marketing and e-commerce sampling campaigns.

Try before you buy

Advantage works with a network of thousands of venues beyond traditional retail outlets. Built by its client success team, that network includes everything from doggy daycares to pet boarding sites, veterinarians and groomers, and pet-specific retailers.

These relationships are built one-by-one and require each venue to opt-in to participate in the sampling program. From there, Advantage employs the staff of each location, educates them about the products and trains them to distribute samples. 

“We know these venues bring in consumers who are pet owners, and they are opting in to take the samples because they are relevant to them,” Gendron says.

In e-commerce, Advantage offers “surprise and delight by placing samples inside of purchased e-retailer packages. Essentially, we’re trying to match brands with products that would make sense or align with synergistic demographics for a particular product.”

Targeted marketing is critical and knowing whether a recipient of a product sample has a dog or cat helps prevent waste and expense. To that end, Gendron says, “We have a network that’s been built out of people who buy pet supplies online for whom we could feature in-box samples.”

Educating pet parents

As consumers have adopted the trend of pet humanization and increased wellness, the food and treats they buy have become more healthful, organic and natural. People treat pets like children, which means they’re more discerning about ingredient panels and the provenance of what’s in their pets’ food.

Edible pet samples, therefore, have become increasingly ingredient-forward. As pet parents focus more on health and wellness, brands are including educational collateral along with samples so that consumers can better understand the benefits for each product — and decide what they do and do not need to give their pet.

In many cases, Advantage will work with veterinary venues to distribute samples, offering additional assurances to the consumer that the product is not only safe, but beneficial to their pet.

“If somebody is giving a sample out at a [veterinary office], there’s an implied endorsement that comes with that,” Gendron says. “The facility has to opt in to distribute the sample. They’re not going to give out something that they don’t believe in or that would be bad for pets.”

Pet food, which is by far the largest pet product category with U.S. retail sales of $51 billion in 2023, also requires an innovative approach to sampling, particularly dog food. They don’t really make sample-size bags of dog food, which typically comes in huge bags. Nor would distributing samples, even if it were logistically feasible, account for different breeds, weights, ages and health needs for every dog.

“It proposes a challenge, for sure, so we’ve created nicely branded educational flyers for these clients that we distribute at vet offices,” Gendron says. “They include a QR code that links to information where customers can learn more about the product, where and how to buy it, and so on. Once people scan the QRs, we know they’re engaged with the product and had an opportunity to learn about them based on their online behaviors and the things they buy.”

Given the overall growth of the pet industry and consumers’ changing behaviors, innovation and education are more important than ever for brands to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Advantage, as a proven leader in creative and impactful sampling, offers winning solutions to break through the noise — and convert samplers into shoppers.