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Less Is More

In a market with unlimited pet food options, consumers increasingly trust the transparency and simplicity of high-quality, limited-ingredient diets.


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Limited-ingredient dog foods continue to grow in popularity as consumers seek short ingredient panels and embrace the message that these recipes can be highly nutritious and address food sensitivity issues, according to Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

“In a crowded market with an abundance of choice, sometimes simplicity is the key to winning consumer confidence,” Immega said. 

Increasingly, consumers trust the transparency of high-quality, limited-ingredient diets, agreed Warren Hill, chief commercial officer for Midwestern Pet Foods in Evansville, Ind.  

“Traditional use of low-cost fillers has also helped shape demand,” he said, noting that pet owners are increasingly seeking foods that leave these fillers out.   

With food sensitivities a growing concern among pet owners, limited-ingredient foods are a great option for pets with these issues, Immega said.

“It can be challenging to determine what a pet is reacting to, so a recipe with a single source of meat protein and as few ingredients as possible makes it easier to determine what is causing the reaction,” she said. “One of the main causes of dietary intolerances is protein, and we’re continuing to see demand for recipes that feature novel proteins.”

While these diets have become popular as pet owners look to simplify their pets’ diets and reduce exposure to ingredients that might cause upset stomachs and skin irritations, there is another motive behind the trend, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

“Just as we look to strip our own diets of unnecessary ingredients, we’re looking to do the same for our pets,” Leary-Coutu said.

Denise Strong, owner of Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., agreed, noting that food-quality-conscious customers want their pets to consume a diet equal to their own. 

“The mentality is that ‘if it’s good for me, it must be good for my pet,’” Strong said. “[Customers in] my market area are not so much coming in looking for limited-ingredient diets as they are coming to me for advice.”

Still, Pawz on Main customers often leave with a limited-ingredient product in hand. 

“Pet parents are thrilled to finally have products that are easily digested and well tolerated by their dogs, with no more vomiting or runny stools,” she said.

Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif., agreed that as pet owners become more aware of the ingredients in their pets’ diets, they recognize that a shorter list of higher-quality ingredients builds a better foundation for overall pet health. 

“The key is not to simply shorten the ingredient list, but to ensure that every ingredient is easily digested and offers a specific contribution to the pet’s dietary needs,” she said.

Unlimited Innovation

There’s no direct formula for innovation when it comes to creating new products, according to Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

“It requires a constant flow of information from third-party research along with insights from our customers and retail partners,” she said.

Manufacturers agreed that anticipation of demand is the cornerstone to cutting-edge nutrition.

“First, we listen to the consumer and the retailer,” said Warren Hill, chief commercial officer for Midwestern Pet Foods in Evansville, Ind. “That information is used to innovate new and exciting ingredients.”

At My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif., formulations begin with certified-restaurant-grade meat, fish or poultry as the No. 1 ingredient, said founder Karen Neola.  

“New products are created in collaboration with veterinarians who are looking for healthier, more natural alternatives to traditional commercial diets,” Neola said. “Then we formulate to meet nutrient profiles recommended by animal nutritionists and universities with veterinary programs.”

Constant monitoring, evaluation and implementation of feedback are imperative to developing successful new products, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

“This allows us to provide new options that meet the growing sensitivities and trends set by consumers and their pets,” she said. “We are constantly researching and testing new recipes.”

Premium Quality

Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., noted that the limited-ingredient category has not only grown in the types of proteins being offered, but also in ingredients that are either changing or being eliminated.

WellPet’s Wellness Core Simply Shreds are formulated with five simple, natural ingredients for dogs, including premium shredded protein and diced vegetables. The grain- and filler-free boost of pure protein is perfect for topping or snacking, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for the Tewksbury, Mass.-based company.

“Pet parents are looking to add variety to their pet’s mealtime routine, and toppers like Simply Shreds give them a pure and nutritious way to achieve that goal,” Leary-Coutu said.

Introduced last summer, the Earthborn Holistic Venture line consists of several limited-ingredient diet recipes for dogs. Regionally sourced, high-quality, single-animal-origin proteins include Alaskan pollock, Pacific squid, rabbit and duck from France, and pork and turkey from the U.S., as well as pumpkin and butternut squash. 

Produced in Midwestern Pet Foods’ kitchens, Venture addresses consumer concerns regarding safety, nutrition, fillers, grains and common allergens. Sustainability and the environment are looked after as well. For example, Earthborn’s Plantbag recyclable packaging contains up to 30 percent plant-based plastic, made from renewable and sustainable Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, said Warren Hill, chief commercial officer for the Evansville, Ind.-based company.

My Perfect Pet recently introduced a grain-free Low Glycemic Turkey Blend recipe to its Personal Care Diets line. The product is formulated for dogs when weight loss, restricted carbohydrate or low glycemic diets are recommended, said Karen Neola, pack leader and founder of the Poway, Calif.-based company.

“We prepare every item in our own kitchen from fresh, naturally nutrient-rich whole foods,” Neola said. “When the primary ingredients are muscle meats and fresh, whole foods, the list of supplements is short and processed ingredients and fillers disappear altogether.”

The natural and holistic formulas feature 100 percent human-grade ingredients and no preservatives or synthetic vitamins.

Petcurean Pet Nutrition recently expanded its Go! Sensitivity + Shine limited-ingredient line with two recipes for dogs: grass-fed lamb and Marine Stewardship Council-certified Alaskan pollock, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

“The grass-fed lamb is sourced from Australia and New Zealand, which is lower in fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than meat from animals that are fed grains,” Immega said.

A member of the cod family, Alaskan pollock offers high nutritional value; is an excellent source of protein, minerals and omega fatty acids; and is low in carbohydrates, cholesterol and fat, she said. 

Both recipes are grain, gluten and potato free, and feature pure coconut oil, which acts as an easily digestible source of energy and promotes skin and coat health, she added.

Leveraging Expertise

Pet specialty retailers can leverage their expertise to make valuable suggestions and recommendations to customers, particularly when confronted with concerns about food allergies, food safety or quality, said Warren Hill, chief commercial officer at Midwestern Pet Foods in Evansville, Ind.

“This knowledge sets the pet specialty retailer apart from many other channels,” Hill said.

In-store education is pivotal to raising awareness, and retailers spending quality time with customers will not only understand specific pet needs, but build loyalty as well, said Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.

Because limited-ingredient diets are all about purity of ingredients, merchandising efforts should clearly call out that quality, whether on the shelf or online, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

Positioning limited-ingredient diets as solutions for a pet’s unique dietary needs can help retailers market these recipes using this messaging as a foundation, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

“As with anything, building awareness for the products available and the benefits they can provide is the first step,” she said.
Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., agreed.

“At the store level, we try to merchandise similar limited-ingredient diets in the same aisles,” she said.

In this way, the different ingredients and attributes of the diets and brands carried can be easily pointed out to customers, she added.

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