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Delivering the best for pets through e-commerce

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Globally, pet owners are becoming more discerning purchasers. New protein-rich or vegan diets are being passed on from humans to the animal kingdom, while freshness and quality are desired like never before. Consumers also place added value on sustainability and environmental sensitivity, while demanding the extra convenience of home delivery, making pet care a more sophisticated marketplace.

In this Q&A, Rebecca McDonald, an international MBA and marketing innovation specialist, who has been leading the development of Sonoco pet care packaging, discusses balancing sustainability with e-commerce readiness.

What is driving change in the pet food market?
“Pet personification is a big one. Pets are more our ‘fur babies’ than ever before; they are part of the family, and we want to feed them as well as we feed ourselves (and let’s be honest, sometimes better than we feed ourselves). A small amount of pet owners are adapting their pet’s diet so it’s vegan or raw, like their own. This is a subset of a much larger demand for higher-quality and fresher ingredients, which I predict to keep growing. GlobalData research shows that 74% of global consumers are highly influenced by how the product impacts the health and wellbeing of their pet.”

What else is having an impact?  
“Consumers, especially younger Gen X and Millennial consumers, are becoming more aware of sustainability issues, and placing higher demands on the brands that they buy from. Research shows that 52% of pet owners are concerned with ‘how ethical / environmentally-friendly / socially-responsible the product is’. That’s not just ingredients – it’s production processes, and crucially, packaging. Another major driver of consumer change is the move towards convenience. Home delivery is gaining traction for pet food and pet care products. Consumers want the best, most sustainable products, delivered direct to their door.”

How does this relate to pet product packaging?
“These trends provide massive impetus to our innovation. Customization has been identified as a major trend, while fresher foods require higher barrier properties to preserve shelf life, so that has an impact. Pet owners want to be reassured about ingredients and freshness, which has seen growth in our clear window products so consumers can see what they’re buying. Durable packaging is also seen as one of the top five factors that mean high quality in pet products, which has influenced how we make our flexible transparent and opaque stand-up pouches. But probably the biggest impact is the need to design packaging for the major growth in e-commerce.”

What are the main differences in packaging for e-commerce?
“The main difference from standard packaging is how the package is handled once it leaves the point of manufacturing. In the old system, packaging would leave in a case with identical products and be shipped to a distribution warehouse on a pallet, where cases would be separated off the pallet and shipped to individual stores. Then the case would be opened, and the product put on the shelf for sale. In e-commerce, products can be shipped in cases or individually, direct from manufacture or via a second seller like Amazon. In both cases the product must withstand the rigors of the distribution channel, which might be UPS, FedEx or another delivery agency.”                                                                                    

Tell us about Sonoco’s work with Amazon.
“E-commerce packaging requires lots of different considerations, due to the complexity of all the different shapes, sizes, weights etc. This is then made more complicated due to the different ways in which these packages are shipped. Amazon has done a great job of putting in place targets and requirements around improving product / packaging protection and enhancing the customer experience, most of which falls into package design and performance. A lot of the work we have been doing over the last year has been around testing and helping customers meet the certification needs of Amazon. We have also helped some customers redesign packaging to help them pass the testing requirements.” 

Can you explain more about the certification?
“Sonoco is an official participant in the Amazon Packaging Support and Supplier Network (APASS). We can partner with brands to design and certify packaging that meets Amazon’s unique requirements – helping companies protect and sell their products while saving costs. There’s more information about APASS on our website here.

Can you give us an example of some Sonoco e-commerce-friendly packaging for pet care?
“Our EcoSeal™ paperboard cans are an excellent choice for a Ship In Own Container (SIOC) package. These canisters suggest environmentally-friendly values through their high content of recycled / renewable fiber and paper bottom. EcoSeal™  containers can be shipped without an outer cardboard box, saving packaging costs and materials. Because it’s made from paper, denting within the supply chain is less of an issue. It’s also designed to fit in a cup holder – great for on-the-go pet treats.”

How else can Sonoco help customers looking to grow through e-commerce?
“The great thing about Sonoco is that we are packaging-agnostic. From rigid plastic containers, to durable retort pouches to paperboard containers we have it all and can combine various aspects to deliver holistic solutions depending on what the customer’s needs are.”  

If you’d like to know more about APASS or Sonoco’s solutions for e-commerce, email Rebecca at