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Top-of-Mind Pet Industry Trends

Pet Product News’ Retailers of the Year look forward to what 2017 will bring, including hot new products.


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After a bustling holiday season, independent pet retailers have bid adieu to 2016 and are looking ahead to the New Year—and anticipating the products and foods that will be trending in the months ahead. Retailers of the Year, both past and present, weighed in on what customers will seek in 2017, on everything from foods, treats and supplements to sourcing, including sustainable and humane practices, online competition, and what it takes to stay relevant in today’s ever-changing world of pet retail.

 

What the Retailer of the Year 2016-2017 Says...

Lisa Senafe, president and founder of Bentley’s Pet Stuff, Retailer of the Year 2016-2017, with 39 stores in five states, noted that stellar education and knowledge serve as the cornerstone to pet retail success.

However, other factors to remaining competitive include featuring innovative foods and product in an engaging environment.

What trends are you seeing looking ahead for 2017?
There are a lot of innovative foods coming out, with semimoist or baked foods doing well in our stores. We definitely see our customers seeking nutrition-boosting products that can be added to their pets’ foods, or those that already have these ingredients mixed in. These foods create a mealtime that is more fun and flavorful for pets.

What about treats and supplements?
I’m seeing a lot more interactive treats, those with more of a purpose, and that includes dental, joint, and skin and coat care products. It’s like a little added bonus for a customer wanting to feel better about feeding his or her dog a treat. In supplements, I see the senior lines growing. One we are interested in is the Ark Naturals senior line, Gray Muzzle. They’ve done it really well.

How will Bentley’s cater to the millennial market?
Transparency is key, so I think it is important to have a good understanding of the foods and products being carried, and to stand behind those items. These consumers want to feel that retailers believe in the products they are selling. Millennials are also online shoppers, so offering an “experience” along with that all-important education piece will encourage these customers to come in to shop. They’ll see the difference between shopping at an independent pet retailer versus ordering online. I think that’s a huge plus.

What about competition with online shopping?
The online business is always going to grow, but I think brick-and-mortar stores are similar to a grocery store; when you run out of milk, you run out of milk. We hear this all the time in our stores, “I had to feed my dog eggs this morning because I ran out of food.” Those folks are driving in after work to pick up food for their pet’s dinner. However, there will always be consumers who will be ahead of the game and preorder online. At Bentley’s, we have that aspect factored in and offer local delivery, providing the convenience of online shopping to customers in our market, as well as the benefit of supporting local business. If a customer wants to shop in their pajamas at their computer, they can do that.

 

What Other Retailers of the Year Say ...

Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas
Millennials will continue to grow in the market share. The baby boomers are aging out of pet ownership and so, at Odyssey Pets, we’ve started to concentrate on the millennial market. At 33, I’m on the cusp of being a millennial myself and have begun purchasing products that I like, not what I think Grandma might like.

Bobby Wise, owner of George, which has stores in California
We expect the call for novel protein ingredient foods, or diets that contain superfoods, to continue. Our George house-made treats are also popular.

Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif.
We are seeing demand for more holistic, natural products, with less use of chemicals. Due to the nature of the Furry Face philosophy in that regard, new customers are seeking us out all the time. Pet parents want better choices in food, toys, supplements and “fixes.” More and more consumers are turning to raw and holistic/homeopathic remedies, so much so that there is a bill backed by the American Veterinary Medical Association to shut down the ability of all nonveterinary businesses to offer advice, including nutritional, without a veterinarian present.

Biff Picone, co-owner of Natural Pawz, which has stores in Texas
We think a big trend for 2017 is treats with new ingredients such as hemp, kale and coconut, and are excited with the potential of these treats coming to market.

Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof, which has stores in Washington, D.C. and Maryland
Sustainable and humane food practices are an area that we are really going to see growth in. People are becoming aware that if an animal being slaughtered is stressed, the adrenaline going through the body can affect the meat. Further, antibiotics and steroid use can translate to obesity in humans, along with a whole range of issues. I think people are beginning to make that connection.

Jusak Yang Bernhard, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories, which has stores in Georgia
Competition is becoming fierce, whether it’s food, treats or accessories, and with more manufacturers, there is much duplication in every aspect of the pet industry. Online retailers will continue to be big competition to both independent and big-box brick-and-mortar stores. Raw food and infused freeze-dried foods with kibble are being developed by some food manufacturers, and baked foods are making a comeback. Consumers are demanding that materials used in products be humane and eco-friendly and packages be designed with recycled, compostable materials. Humane ingredients, such as grass-fed and cage-free protein sources, will also show strong demand.

Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee in Bozeman, Mont.
The premiumization of food is an ongoing trend. One thing I see getting bigger are toppers—freeze dried, dehydrated, even using raw as a topper—while not necessarily solely feeding these foods.

Katie Pottenger, owner of Parker’s Holistic Pet Market in Chicago
I see food as really being the basis of specialty business. Consumers can purchase pet supplies almost everywhere, so we are going to have to buckle down and sell what people really need as opposed to the cute and the fluffy. It’s terrible for margins, but customers are constantly being bombarded with Facebook ads and commercials; they are shopping at Marshalls and T.J.Maxx for toys and poo bags, the higher-margin items we built our bread and butter on, so we really have to focus on more of the nutritional aspect.

Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, which is headquartered in Orlando, Fla.
Trends in the pet industry tend to follow those of their human counterparts. Specifically, in the food category—as customers become more aware of ingredient sourcing in their own food, they will be looking for the same consideration in their pet’s food. I think sustainable and organic recipes will be a huge segment of the natural pet food market. In addition, customers are still searching for the easiest way to feed a raw diet, resulting in continued growth of the freeze-dried category. Brands like Stella & Chewy’s and Nature’s Variety are coming out with new freeze-dried products that incorporate other nutrients besides the meat bases. In our stores, we are also seeing huge growth in home goods and wares for pet lovers.

Terry Brlecic, co-owner of Pet Things in Douglasville, Ga.
I think we are going to see good growth in soft treats. Manufacturers have managed to make a softer treat with just enough preservatives that they don’t go bad. Trend-wise, instead of cookies and body parts, I think we are going to see a more fun type of treat coming into the store.

Cindra Conison owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt.
For 2017, I see even more pressure from Internet shopping, as well as continued expansion of chain stores. High-end kibble will be sold in more grocery stores, and even hardware stores. In reaction to this continued stressful competition, I think independent pet stores will evolve and differentiate, with more attention paid to being what the big box doesn’t and will never offer: a customer-centric experience. Further, more independents will look back in time for inspiration and assume the role of the friendly pet shop of the fifties or sixties; a place you want to bring your kids. In a world of charmless small, and large, box stores, a warm and inviting pet shop that offers the feel of a “shop” instead of a store will drive traffic, and an outwardly friendly staff will create sales and make neighbors feel welcome.

Janene Zakrajsek, co-owner of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in Southern California
In looking to 2017 we see more innovation with cat products, including more functional furniture pieces. We also see more development in functional treats, and new types of treat categories focusing on higher-quality ingredients. Additionally, we project more awareness and acceptance toward cannabidiol (CBD) supplements. For the near future, we would like to see manufacturers level-up their products, offering more apparel following human fashion trends, with an eye for better fabrication, color and styling.

 

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Pet Product News.

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