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Health Boosters

As consumer focus homes in on the dietary needs of dogs, the novel protein and superfood categories have merged with the jetlike trajectory of a diverse array of selections in pet food.


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Recognizing the benefits of a proper diet for their own health, consumers also are hyper focused on the nutritional requirements of canine family members, said John Kampeter, vice president of marketing and sales for Meta, Mo.-based Diamond Pet Foods. 

Through research and exposure to similar human food trends, pet owners are cognizant of the benefits of superfoods and novel proteins in the diets of their pets, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing at Instinct, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.

The call for novel proteins can also be attributed to consumers’ desire to offer something new or different to their dogs at mealtime, or to solve issues that stem from real or perceived intolerances or allergies, said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.

For example, novel proteins such as rabbit, venison, lamb or salmon provide selections beyond more-common offerings, said Pete Brace, vice president of pet parent relations and communications for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.

“Many of our pet parents like to feed a rotational diet in order to offer new flavors so pets don’t build up an intolerance to one ingredient or protein,” Brace said. 

While feeding a limited-ingredient diet containing a novel protein offers mealtime choices and might help prevent food allergies or intolerances, nutrient-dense superfoods such as kale, chia seed, pumpkin, blueberries and quinoa provide an additional boost to pet nutrition, Kampeter said.

“These nutrient-rich ingredients with health-promoting properties are high on the shopping lists of pet parents looking for ways to help their pets stay happy and healthy,” said Jamie Turkington, director of marketing for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Although there is no standard definition, “superfoods” generally are considered to be foods that provide large amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other critical nutrients, Wisniewski said. 

“Pumpkin, kale and pomegranate are examples of superfoods that are rich sources of antioxidants, while chia seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids,” Turkington said. “Including a mix of superfoods in the diet of a dog provides a balance of essential nutrients and disease-fighting compounds.”

Offer a Nutritious Variety

“Variety and choice continue to lead consumer demand in the pet food industry,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis. “In the last decade, that market trend has gathered momentum as more and more brands have begun utilizing unique ingredients.”

Recent additions to Merrick Pet Care’s grain-free lineup include two novel protein recipes, Real Rabbit + Chickpeas Recipe and Real Venison + Chickpeas Recipe. They feature deboned venison or rabbit as the first ingredient, said Pete Brace, vice president of pet parent relations and communications for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.

“The foods are also potato free, and both feature chickpeas for pet parents seeking a lower-glycemic option for their dog,” Brace said, adding that the made-in-the-USA recipes contain no corn, wheat, soy or gluten ingredients.

For 2017, Diamond Pet Foods will continue its education and outreach to consumers and veterinarians regarding its new Diamond Care line, which was developed by veterinarians to help address common health issues in dogs and cats, said John Kampeter, vice president of marketing and sales for Diamond Pet Foods in Meta, Mo.

In addition to containing increased fiber to help pets feel full, the Diamond Care Weight Management Formula for Adult Dogs includes superfoods such as kale, chia seed and papaya that provide antioxidants to support overall good health, according to the company. 

Redbarn Pet Products recently introduced its Redbarn Wildwood canned food line featuring trout, duck and quail in a delectable gravy, said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for the Long Beach, Calif.-based company.

“Like all recipes in the Redbarn canned line, premium protein is the first ingredient,” Cooper said. “Wildwood Stews are also grain, soy and corn free.”

Each made-in-the-USA recipe features added superfood functional ingredients to support canine health needs, such as weight control, healthy teeth and bones, and joint health, Cooper said. 

Koha Super Premium Pet Food, a brand of Nootie in Delray Beach, Fla., rolled out a new line of grain- and potato-free stews for dogs and cats featuring kangaroo, guineafowl and venison, said founder Lonnie Schwimmer.

In answer to consumer interest in raw food nutrition, Instinct recently introduced Raw Bites for Small Breed Dogs, a recipe specifically tailored to the nutritional requirements of more-diminutive canines, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing for Instinct, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.

In addition to the benefits of minimal processing to preserve the nutritional integrity of every ingredient, the recipes are enhanced with antioxidant-rich superfood bites to help maintain a healthy immune system, Wisniewski said.

Getting the Word Out

Consumers don’t always understand the health benefits of superfoods and novel proteins, so when marketing these products, retailers should underline the importance of a well-staffed, knowledgeable sales force, said Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont.

“We definitely advertise, but we also know that we will be required to engage in a conversation and provide samples,” Allen said. “I don’t think retailers can just put these foods out in the store and excite customers to make a purchase.”

Bobby Wise, owner of George, which has stores in California, agreed. 

“We normally engage our customers in conversation to promote these foods, not necessarily through a display function,” he said. “That is one of the advantages of having smaller shops where conversations occur as a matter of customer interaction.”

Retailers can drive sales by leveraging products with packaging that clearly promotes the inclusion of superfoods or specific proteins in their formulations, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing at Instinct, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.

“Because consumers are looking for this information quickly, clear visual cues are important,” Wisniewski said.

Getting the word out in a local Savannah, Ga., newspaper, a pet column with a TailsSpin byline raises nutritional awareness and introduces products trending within the pet industry, said Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which is a Bentley’s Pet Stuff company and has stores in Georgia.

“We often write about pet nutrition and what’s trending within the pet industry,” he said.

Social media is another cost-effective, immediate and measurable marketing tool for retailers, said Jamie Turkington, director of marketing for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 

“A customer looking for novel proteins and superfoods is a discerning one, and it’s effective to target them online with content tailored to specific needs and desires,” Turkington said. “For example, spending $100 on a Facebook giveaway can directly reach key consumers and incite them to try a new type of pet food with a higher price point.”

Additionally, perks such as samples or a gift with purchase can go a long way when combined with well-educated staff members, Turkington said.

A Health-Enhancing Syllabus

Retailers and manufacturers agree that education is the cornerstone to assisting consumers in selecting foods containing novel proteins and superfood ingredients.

Customers often look to pet specialty retailers as expert advisors when choosing foods, especially if they are experiencing feeding challenges, said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.

“Taking full advantage of any training resources manufacturers offer will provide brand familiarity and nutritional expertise,” he said.

“At TailsSpin, our staff is required to take part in pet nutrition training through Pet Store Pro, as well as veterinarian and manufacturers’ representative trainings,” said Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which is a Bentley’s Pet Stuff company and has stores in Georgia. “This knowledge presents an opportunity to add sales, build customer relationships, and introduce superfoods or novel proteins to the diets of pets.”

Employee knowledge is vital when tailoring recommendations to a specific pet, said Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont. 

“Often, a customer will come in saying, ‘I’ve been told I should do this or that,’ but it’s up to us to probe with our questions,” she said. “We would be remiss to pick one food and offer it to every person walking in; it’s not one [size fits] all.”

Increased Interest

“The last several years has seen an increase in pet parents seeking novel proteins,” said Pete Brace, vice president of pet parent relations and communications for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas. “According to a 2015 GFK report, interest in rabbit is up 65 percent; venison, 32 percent; and buffalo, 49 percent.” 

Novel proteins allow pet owners to offer more flavor variety while selecting a diet tailored to the individual dietary needs and preferences of their pet, Brace added. 

Further, novel proteins have become popular as a means of isolating digestive issues caused by the allergens in some of the more common protein sources, such as chicken or beef, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing for Instinct, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.

The novel protein movement began as consumers sought these foods at local butcher shops in order to make their own dog food, said Lonnie Schwimmer, founder of Koha Super Premium Pet Food, a brand of Nootie, based in Delray Beach, Fla.

“Since those days, these foods are more readily available in many shelf stable products,” Schwimmer said. 

At Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont., novel protein dog foods have been gaining traction over the past few years, said co-owner Holly Allen. 

“We are starting to see real novel proteins on the single-source scene, like kangaroo or goat,” Allen said. 

While novel proteins were introduced almost a decade ago, superfood ingredients have become increasingly important in the past five years as consumers strive to ensure more healthful lives for their pets, said John Kampeter, vice president of marketing and sales for Meta, Mo.-based Diamond Pet Foods.

“In our industry, this trend offers another touch point to connect with consumers wishing to tailor their pets’ nutrition to specific needs,” Kampeter said.

As with many advances in pet food nutrition, the inclusion of superfoods closely mirrors pet owner awareness of the benefits these ingredients offer in their own diets, Wisniewski said.

At George, which has stores in California, owner Bobby Wise noted more consumer interest in superfood supplements than in dog foods with these ingredients.

“We have been selling a lot of nutrient-rich supplements, especially those with a natural or holistic bent, for instance, kelp-based powders, or chews incorporating additives such as chia seeds,” he said.

However, Allen has seen an increase in kibble and freeze-dried-food manufacturers incorporating superfood ingredients into their products.

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