Simply Unlimited Demand
Limited-ingredient pet foods score big with consumers looking to mitigate food sensitivity issues, as well as those who value a short ingredient panel.
As dog owners recognize the connection between diet and the overall well-being of their pets, many are searching for nutritional solutions to mitigate allergy and food sensitivity issues. And as with their own foods, pet owners are drawn to an ingredient panel listing natural, simple ingredients.
Because some dogs might experience sensitivities to particular foods, consumers are increasingly seeking the simplicity of single-source-animal-protein and grain-free diets, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.
“Consumers are more aware than ever before of what they are feeding their pets,” said Shelby Wisniewski, manager of integrated marketing and consumer experience at Nature’s Variety Instinct Pet Food in St. Louis. “Since sensitivities can be caused by proteins, for some pets it is important to limit the number of those sources in a diet.”
This is especially true as many products blend multiple proteins per formula, making it difficult to avoid specific proteins, Wisniewski added.
For these reasons, pet owners are seeking clear and easy-to-understand dietary solutions, she said.
Beyond their own research, a pet owner might learn from their veterinarian that a pet should avoid certain ingredients, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales at Natural Balance Pet Foods in Burbank, Calif.
Veterinarian referrals for limited-ingredient diets are on the rise at The Loyal Biscuit Co., which has stores in Maine, said owner Heidi Vanorse Neal.
“We have a fantastic relationship with several local veterinary offices with holistic veterinarians on staff,” Vanorse Neal said. “They really like to recommend Acana and Orijen foods for LID foods, as well as raw foods. Demand has definitely increased.”
The benefit of limited-ingredient diets is that an owner knows exactly what their dog is eating, said Ann Hudson, vice president, marketing, for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, the maker of Cloud Star products. The category isn’t only for dogs with skin and coat problems, she added.
“For us, ‘limited ingredient’ means fewer, simpler and easily recognizable ingredients,” Hudson said. “Ingredients that you would put on your own plate, nothing processed and nothing artificial. Whole ingredients are healthier ingredients, and a diet free of grains, potatoes and split plant proteins is best.”
Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, noted growth in the category.
“Demand is growing—I’d say LIDs comprise about 10 percent of our inventory,” Redwine said. “At one point, it was closer to 1 percent, so it’s increasing.”
Single-Source Proteins, Complex Carbs in Limited-Ingredient Diets
In response to demand, manufacturers are developing and presenting carefully selected formulas featuring single-source animal proteins and complex carbohydrates.
Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis recently announced Cloud Star WellMade, a complete line of grain-free, limited-ingredient diets, said Ann Hudson, vice president, marketing.
The line is available in five proteins and three complementary formats—Baked Kibble, Homestyle Meals and Dehydrated Mixes—so owners can customize meals for their dogs, Hudson added.
Natural Balance Pet Foods recently expanded its L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets line for adult dogs and added a recipe for puppies, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for the Burbank, Calif., company.
The two new formulas for adult dogs, available in 2.75-ounce wet cups, include Chicken & Sweet Potato and White Fish & Sweet Potato recipes.
Both are grain free, cooked to perfection in a savory broth and can be used as standalone meals or as toppers to dry kibble, Wigert said.
The L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Potato & Duck Dry Puppy Formula contains a single-source animal protein and limited carbohydrate sources, providing complete and balanced nutrition for all breeds, Wigert noted.
The Single Source Salmon & Pumpkin Formula from Tucker’s features wild-caught salmon from the Pacific Northwest and contains only five ingredients and a vitamin mix, said Matt Scheil, vice president of sales at Tucker’s Raw Frozen and Treats, a division of Raw Basics, in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.
In addition, the company’s new Carnibars line is one of the first dehydrated “meal bar” products for dogs and is made exclusively with meat and pumpkin, Scheil said. The bars are individually vacuum sealed for freshness.
“One 2.85-ounce package of Carnibar contains enough food to feed a 25-pound dog for a day,” Scheil said. “It’s really an affordable way to feed a limited diet, even on the go.”
Merrick Pet Care expanded its Limited Ingredient Diet lineup with a grain- and potato-free Real Chicken Recipe. The kibble product delivers a leading level of protein at 30 percent, and the first five ingredients are deboned chicken, chicken meal, chickpeas, peas and chicken fat, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for the Amarillo, Texas, company.
Complementing this new kibble recipe is a Limited Ingredient Diet canned product. Real Chicken Stew offers a single-source protein in a grain- and potato-free chunky stew texture, Brace said.
“Like all Merrick recipes, Limited Ingredient Diet foods are made in the USA in our own kitchens, with no ingredients from China,” he said.
Growing Limited-Ingredient Knowledge
Over the past several years, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to distinguish between limited-ingredient diets and formulas that might be grain free but not limited in ingredients, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods in Burbank, Calif.
“In order for pet parents to feel confident in their purchase decisions, they need to be aware that limited-ingredient foods are carefully formulated to provide complete nutrition for various life stages,” Wigert said.
As with all pet foods, education is crucial in helping pet owners recognize the role of diet in alleviating symptoms caused by food allergies or sensitivities, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.
Additionally, consumers must understand why they are feeding the formulas selected, and for these reasons, it is important that they are able to look to the store associate for expert advice, he said.
At The Big Bad Woof, with locations in Washington, D.C., and Hyattsville, Md., education is an involved learning process that includes staff-meeting presentations covering issues such as digestion, digestive enzymes and probiotics, said Julie Paez, co-owner.
“LID foods are important, and talking about them is a great way for our sales staff to have a more in depth, meaningful and supportive conversation with the pet guardian,” Paez said. “Because they are talking more at length with the customer about the need to look at a diet as a solution, it opens the door to other suggestions that may be helpful.”
Asking the right questions and providing the proper information is essential when guiding consumers who might or might not know if a limited-ingredient formula is best for their pet, agreed Shelby Wisniewski, manager of integrated marketing and consumer experience at Nature’s Variety Instinct Pet Food in St. Louis.
“Instinct partners with retailers to provide educational materials that will explain LIDs, and drive a deeper understanding of the primary causes of digestive upset and food sensitivities,” Wisniewski said.
Education is essential at Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont., said co-owner Holly Allen. Aside from taking advantage of the educational opportunities provided by vendors, associates research and study independently and as a whole.
“One person may take the question, ‘Why LID?’ and another will study the ‘benefits of LID,’ and then they will present their findings to the group,” Allen said.
As a result of this tutelage, Dee-O-Gee has built a local reputation of offering products they stand behind and are knowledgeable about, Allen added.
Promoting Dietary Solutions
Offering dietary solutions to consumers and their pets is crucial for retailers when promoting limited-ingredient diets, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods in Burbank, Calif.
Offering both value and selection is key, said Ann Hudson, vice president, marketing, for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, maker of Cloud Star products.
“Great products come and go, and many times a failed launch can be traced back to affordability,” she said. “Owners want to feed the best, and if you can give them a limited-ingredient, grain-free, baked kibble for less than $60 MSRP, it’s a big win.”
And don’t make owners visit other stores to find what they need or want, Hudson said.
“Be creative and merchandise multiple formats together to show all the feeding options a brand like Cloud Star has to offer: baked food, wet food, mixes and treats,” she added.
Cross-promotion is a useful tool in creating awareness, particularly in a formula family such as limited-ingredient pet foods, Wigert agreed. If a store places similar items in close proximity, consumers will be visually led toward filling their basket with like offerings, such as wet food, dry food and treats.
Building relationships with pet health care providers also can serve to get the word out.
“Lately, veterinary referrals have been a good chunk of our LID marketing,” said Heidi Vanorse Neal, owner of The Loyal Biscuit Co., which has locations in Maine. “They have been fantastic in sending people to us.”
Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont., agreed that promotion of limited-ingredient diets often is accomplished through collaboration with the veterinary community.
“We have received a lot of referrals from veterinarians in our area, and we have vets that come here to purchase holistic foods and supplements,” she said.
When Is Less More?
The adage “less is more” certainly rings true when it comes to limited-ingredient dog foods, said Matt Scheil, vice president of sales at Tucker’s Raw Frozen and Treats, a division of Raw Basics, in Pleasant Prairie, Wis.
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity,” Scheil said. “Keeping the diet simple can help everything from digestion to allergies in a pet.”
Limited-ingredient diets offer a short list of high-quality ingredients, and an absence of elements pet owners might wish to avoid in an animal experiencing allergies or sensitivities, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.
Further, companies manufacturing limited-ingredient formulations tend to offer cleaner ingredient decks, said Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof, with locations in Washington, D.C, and Hyattsville, Md.
“We generally encounter two categories of consumer feeding LID foods,” said Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont. “The first group consists of people who believe their pet needs this type of diet for one reason or another.”
The second category encompasses consumers whose veterinarians have recommended a limited-ingredient diet and who do not wish to feed a prescription food, she added.
“They want something more on the holistic side, but they still want that one protein, one fat—they want that basic LID,” Allen said.
At The Big Bad Woof, limited-ingredient diets are becoming increasingly important to the product mix, said co-owner Pennye Jones-Napier.
“An LID has a very important place in our market,” Jones-Napier said. “While our first solution for a bad food intolerance or an allergy is a raw diet, some people just can’t go there for different reasons, including philosophical viewpoints. We have a lot of vegetarians who don’t want to feed raw meat, but they are fine with kibble.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Pet Product News.