Top of the Line
Dog owners increasingly want to give their pets the best diets possible, and, in turn, superpremium food sales continue to climb.
Pet owners’ desire to feed their companion animals quality food has helped superpremium diet sales soar—in a very short amount of time. According to market research firm GfK, in 2017, sales for superpremium dog food reached about $2 billion in pet specialty, which more than doubled the category sales for 2012. Superpremium dog food represents about 38 percent of overall dog food sales in the pet specialty category, according to the firm.
“One reason for the rapid growth of the superpremium category is the need to differentiate from the standard ‘natural’ offering,” said Natasha Davis, client service manager for GfK. “Currently, natural represents more than 70 percent of overall dollar sales in pet specialty. [The superpremium category is roughly 91 percent natural] and leans toward premium claims such as grain free and preserved.”
As more dog owners begin to understand the link between high-quality nutrition and health, industry participants believe that even more will shift toward superpremium diets.
“Pet parents are starting to realize that daily diet is critical for animal health,” said Todd Rowan, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bixbi Pet in Boulder, Colo. “Ingredients matter.”
In addition, consumers are beginning to have a better understanding of how diet and nutrition can impact their own health and are making similar comparisons when it comes to their canine companions’ diets, said Patti Vincent, owner of Puppy Love Dog Store in Beaumont, Texas.
“They are seeing that many disorders can be treated and improved by careful regulation of diet,” Vincent said. “Taking the pharmaceutical prescribed pill—with certain side effects—is not always the answer.”
As a result, pet owners seek out fresher, more natural foods for their pets.
“Superpremium diets are replacing grain-based, carb-filled diets as consumers become more educated on the benefits of species-appropriate diets containing quality meats and fresh whole ingredients,” said Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.
This year, a plethora of superpremium diets have debuted on the market.
Rawbble dry food from Bixbi Pet in Boulder, Colo., uses fresh meats, and the formulas do not include powdered meat meals, potatoes or rice, according to the company. Rawbble wet foods have 95 to 97 percent single-source meat, liver and broth, and do not contain carrageenan or other gums. All of the limited-ingredient diets are also grain free.
Do Only Good Pet Nutrition in Westlake Village, Calif., recently introduced a line of single-protein foods that offers customers the chance to rotate their pets’ protein sources, said company officials. The line provides variety to the diet—beef, chicken, turkey, fish and lamb—without some of the digestive issues commonly associated with switching foods or proteins, officials added.
In addition, Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y., launched canned recipes for dogs that are both GMO and grain free. They include four flavors: Northern Catch, Tuscan Style Quail, Italian Feast Venison and New York Style Beef. Four additional GMO and grain-free recipes for dogs are also coming soon and will include: French Bistro (rabbit), Carolina Skillet (pork), Montana Grill (buffalo and whitefish) and Mediterranean Roast (lamb), according to the company.
Piquing Interest in Superpremium Diets
Attracting attention through displays is a valuable way to draw more interest to the superpremium diet category. Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y., said that separating superpremium brands helps to lessen the initial confusion for consumers when they first walk down the dog food aisle.
“Signage should be used to call out the distinct shopping areas of food offerings,” he added. “Dialing down past that, categorizing the shelf by ‘original,’ ‘grain free,’ and ‘specialty’ and ‘functional’ foods also enables the consumer to shop based on specific needs. This makes the shopping experience less frustrating.”
Displays can also be incredibly useful in furthering the effort to educate. At Puppy Love Dog Store in Beaumont, Texas, owner Patti Vincent uses a table to display foods of varying quality with a sign that reads: “What’s in your dog food?”
“We have the actual bags of dog food on that table with an enlarged ingredient list for each bag,” Vincent said. “Some of the major brands don’t even include a real meat source. Customers are always surprised to see in black and white that the first ingredient is not a protein. It’s a good starting conversation on what byproducts mean and that corn, soy and wheat can trigger allergies and inflammation.”
At Odyssey Pets in Dallas, all of the store’s offerings could be classified as superpremium foods. Even so, co-owner Sherry Redwine said that having displays that entice customers to check out the food selection is beneficial, as food is not the only reason people stop in.
“We use wire baker’s racks and have the entire back wall lined with freezers for raw food,” Redwine said. “We added three freezers in the past year due to the growth in that category. For new foods that we bring in, we usually run a special and create a display at the front to bring attention to the line.”
Feed Them Facts
Some pet specialty retailers find that their customers intend to feed their pets quality foods, but they often need extra guidance to find what is right for their pet.
“There has been a lot of misleading information out there, and consumers often just need some direction about what to do,” said Sue Green, co-owner of The Whole Cat & Dogs, Too in Denver. “The best way to educate is with a conversation. More often than not, we find that dog parents have a lot of questions about what they’re feeding their animal.”
Green added that it is admittedly challenging to know where to turn when there are so many mixed messages out there.
Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif., agreed.
“Pet owners are bombarded with claims from all pet food manufacturers that their products are superior,” Neola said. “Consumers are challenged with determining which are legitimate or even relevant to their pet’s health. But retailers can help their customers make healthier choices by encouraging them to look beyond the price tag and the hype and to consider quality and health benefits of ingredients, processes used and the integrity of the manufacturer in their buying decisions. This is great for retailers because they can form long-term relationships with their customers by assisting them.”
Todd Rowan, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bixbi Pet in Boulder, Colo., said it’s important for store employees to understand the value of superpremium diets themselves.
“Independent pet store employees are a great resource for consumers who need advice,” Rowan said. “But the collective industry marketing dollars spent on traditional foods made with traditional ingredients can sway even the most educated store employee. We hope consumers and retailers keep asking questions, because ingredient ‘realities’ eventually come out.”
Pet specialty retailers are in a unique position as they can often take the opportunity to gain the trust of their shoppers through one-on-one conversations.
“So much of what consumers believe about food comes from word-of-mouth from other dog parents or from vet recommendations,” said Rick Pack, founder of Do Only Good Pet Nutrition in Westlake Village, Calif. “Building trust is an important element in terms of educating consumers. Many brands focus on data and facts, and that’s important, as long as you can also build trust.”