Consumers want a single-source animal protein as the first ingredient and a nutritious, streamlined ingredient list in their dog food.
Demand for limited-ingredient dog food continues to grow, with pet specialty retailers reporting a steady rise of sales in this subcategory. In fact, the pet specialty channel experienced a 9.2 percent rise in sales for grain-free limited-ingredient diets (LID) from September 2017 to August 2018, according to GfK’s Pet Specialty Point-of-Sale (POS) business, which was recently acquired by Nielsen.
And when it comes to limited-ingredient diets, meat matters.
“The trend we’re seeing in LID products involves a growing interest in meat-forward formulations,” said Julie S. Washington, chief marketing officer at Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. “This is occurring alongside the continued rapid expansion of the LID category, now at 8.6 percent [according to GfK research] of the total pet food business and growing at a 10 percent clip annually.”
Consumers who have pets with allergies or other health issues are increasingly looking for limited-ingredient diets, said Barbara Liss, vice president of marketing at Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.
“As more pet parents try to find a solution for their dogs with sensitive stomachs, we’ve seen a growing demand for limited-ingredient diets that feature a single-source animal protein and easily digestible carbohydrates,” she said.
Preventing allergies and food sensitivities is a significant motivator in this category, noted Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager for Ziwi USA in Overland Park, Kan.
“Many holistic veterinarians suggest rotating proteins to help prevent allergies and intolerances from developing,” she said. “Feeding a LID diet ensures that the pet is ingesting only the intended proteins during each rotation.”
Beyond single-source animal proteins, industry insiders have noticed that customers want the ingredients in their pet’s food to be limited overall.
“We’re seeing people looking for really limited ingredients—not just the protein but the other ingredients are specified and narrowed,” said Audree Berg, owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “People looking for LID also want to restrict other things in the diet, such as potato, peas, sunflower oil or salmon oil.”
Durham reported similar findings.
“Consumers are looking for shorter ingredient lists and are moving away from diets that include multiple meat protein sources and/or multiple sources of starch,” she said. “When a second meat protein source is included, consumers choose ones that are not commonly associated with allergies.”
And ingredient quality is significantly more important than the quantity, said Todd Rowan, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Bixbi Pet in Boulder, Colo.
“For example, dog food that uses fresh meat instead of meal powders is gaining traction faster than legacy products that use meals as their primary protein source,” he said.
Consumers no longer consider over-processed ingredients, such as meal powders, nutritious, Rowan added.
“The whole-food trend for humans is carrying over to pet,” he explained. “The term ‘clean food’ refers to products low in heavy metals, simply processed, with more bioavailability of their inherent nutrients. This idea of cleanliness started a few years ago with the whole food plant-based movement and is more broadly applied nowadays to a variety of categories for which nutrition is important.”
Competition and an overall trend toward simplicity are key factors in the direction that limited-ingredient diets for dogs are going, according to Michael Levy, president and founder of Pet Food Express, a multistore chain in California.
“We are seeing a lot more use of meat as the first ingredient now as compared to the past where the carbs tended to be the first ingredient,” he said. “This is being influenced primarily by keeping things simple and easy to understand, and competition between pet food manufacturers competing for this segment.”
Multiple limited-ingredient diets hit the market for canine companions in the past year, and many pet food companies updated existing lineups to meet specific consumer demands.
Bixbi Pet in Boulder, Colo., launched its Rawbble food line in dry, wet and freeze-dried formats. The diets contain fresh meat and no meals, and recipes include Chicken, Duck, Lamb, Beef, Pork, and Salmon and Chicken.
In mid-August, Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas, unveiled its updated lineup of limited-ingredient-diet (LID) dry and wet dog foods. The 10 recipes feature single-source animal proteins and no potatoes, grains, or common allergens such as gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, wheat and soy. Updated recipes include Salmon, Lamb, Duck, Turkey, Chicken and Beef.
Ziwi USA in Overland Park, Kan., also added to its line of limited-ingredient diets for dogs by introducing Ziwi Peak Free-Range Chicken in air-dried and canned recipes. The air-dried recipe contains 96 percent meat, organs and bone, all from New Zealand-sourced free-range chicken, and provides natural glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids. The canned recipes contain 92 percent free-range chicken meat, organs and bone with less than 5 percent of chickpea as a natural binder, said company officials, adding that several LID product launches are scheduled for this year.
Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, reformulated its Acana Singles line, which includes two new flavors: Beef & Pumpkin and Turkey & Greens. The revisions contain more fresh meat protein, fewer carbohydrates and a shortened ingredient panel, according to company officials.
Limited Ingredients, Infinite Knowledge
When dog owners visit independent pet specialty retailers in search of limited-ingredient diets (LIDs), they typically need some guidance from educated staff, industry insiders reported.
“Consumers rely on pet specialty staff to help inform and guide them,” said Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager for Ziwi USA in Overland Park, Kan. “So it’s important that the staff is well trained about the LID products they sell.”
Insiders agreed that education is imperative for employees and customers alike.
“Education is critical, and really that’s why people come to stores like ours—all the independents out there—because we take the time to learn about the product, and we can share it with the customer,” said Audree Berg, owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “It keeps us viable and them off the internet.”
While limited-ingredient diets generally have shorter ingredient panels, Julie S. Washington, chief marketing officer at Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said brands and retailers still need to help educate clients on how to read an ingredient panel and nutrition label.
“Whether this is through communication at the shelf, floor staff training, online at retailer websites or at events in the stores, it’s important to help customers understand the terms and descriptions provided on a product label and how this information relates to their pet’s needs,” she said.
Educating staff and, ultimately, customers not only helps with sales, but also combats misinformation about pet health, said Michael Levy, president and founder of Pet Food Express, a multistore chain in California.
“Only educated employees can really explain food strategy to a customer,” he said. “Without a strong education policy in place for store employees, this can lead to misinformation and cause more problems for the pets. We put a very large emphasis on training our employees throughout their time at [Pet Food Express].”
To educate employees, many stores bring in vendors and offer in-store training. To pass this education along to customers, most insiders recommend conversations, utilizing the power of social media and hosting in-store events.
“Talk to your customers and ask questions,” Levy said. “Remember that training and customer interactions are best for your customers and the best way for you to beat [online sellers] and the national chains.”
Tiana O’Neill, owner of Garden City Pet in Augusta, Ga., agreed.
“You have to know what’s going on with [the customer’s] pet and what they’ve tried before to get a baseline of the options they can try, which means you must intimately know the composition of the foods you sell,” she said.
At Auggie’s Pet Supplies, Berg hosts food tastings and hands out samples. She also added televisions at checkout on which she rotates videos every month with entertaining as well as educational items.
4 Ways to Boost LID Awareness and Sales
Despite increasing interest in limited-ingredient diets (LIDs) for dogs, industry insiders said raising awareness of this category remains necessary. Insiders offered four important ways independent pet specialty retailers can market these diets and boost sales in this segment of the dog food category.
1. It Starts With the Staff
Staff members who are well educated about the benefits of LIDs and knowledgeable about their products will boost in-store sales, said Sharon Durham, marketing communications manager for Ziwi USA in Overland Park, Kan.
Audree Berg, owner of Auggie’s Pet Supplies in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., agreed.
“Have a smart staff that is engaged and interested and enjoys what they do, because that translates into your customer base as well,” she said.
2. Use Testimonials
“Personal recommendations from in-store staff are always the best way to get the word out about limited-ingredient dog food,” said Barbara Liss, vice president of marketing at Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.
Julie S. Washington, chief marketing officer at Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said an online component available for a store’s customers might help further extend this effort.
“First consideration is [the] retailer’s social channel community platforms,” she said. “Pet lovers can be invited to share their anecdotal stories of how these products have benefited their pets. There’s no more credible voice or persuasive argument for LID than from real people with real pets sharing their stories, experiences and outcomes of feeding LID diets, showcasing the difference these diets have made in the lives of their [pets].”
3. Product Placement
“To help reinforce the benefits of a limited-ingredient food, pet stores could find success promoting the limited-ingredient foods next to the care clinic or grooming area to position them as a great solution for pets with digestive health concerns or itchy skin, ears or paws,” Liss said.
4. In-Store Events
“Consumer events can be a great way to get pet lovers engaged,” Washington said. “Whether it’s educational seminars on label reading, behavioral clinics, adoption days or grooming experiences, inviting customers to the store opens the door to one-on-one conversations about important topics like understanding a product label.”