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Curating Cuisine Choices

With so many pet food options available today, it’s worth a retailer’s time and energy to assemble an optimum product assortment.


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Everyone loves options. When considering which products to purchase, consumers like to know that they have choices they can narrow down based on their wants and needs. However, for pet owners, sometimes those choices can become overwhelming—especially when it comes to pet food. Retailers have the opportunity to narrow down the vast array of food options by only selecting brands they really believe in, which will help create an optimum pet food product assortment while also providing a great value to customers. Retailers who have curated a variety of food choices said it takes time and energy to do but is worth the effort.

Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas, said that one of the store’s mottos is “If we wouldn’t feed it to our dogs, we wouldn’t sell it to yours.” She said that independent retailers who tout themselves as all natural or holistic must be very selective about what they carry and careful about the message they’re conveying to customers.

“By only carrying quality products you believe in, it reinforces your brand and what your store stands for,” said Redwine, who does a tremendous amount of research on all the food products she carries.

Of course, keeping a variety of options within a store’s selections is important even as it is selectively narrowed down. Maintaining a variety allows customers to select a product that feels customized to their pet’s needs.

“Every single pet is different, and any retailer recommendation for a pet food should be tailored to meet that pet’s individual health and dietary needs,” said Heather McKay, associate brand manager for Nutram Pet Products in Elmira, Ontario, Canada. “Carrying a healthy variety of options ensures that you stock something appropriate for just about any pet that walks through the door. It also demonstrates your breadth of knowledge when it comes to pet offerings and a commitment to carrying the best.”

Robert L. Downey, president and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa., said food selection should reflect pets’ array of nutritional needs. Even a pet’s energy requirements can vary based on a variety of factors including breed, size, gender, age, environment and activity level, Downey said.

“It is difficult to have a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition,” Downey said. “Even palatability preferences can vary from pet to pet. Some may prefer fish, while others may prefer poultry or red meat. Pre-existing medical conditions can also influence purchases. A pet may have an allergy to grains or suffer from pancreatitis. All of these things result in the need for a variety of product.”

Drawing Attention

Even with an assortment of foods, displays are still a great way to draw customers to a section as well as to help simplify the shopping experience. Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said she breaks down options by category—kibble, canned, freeze dried, dehydrated and raw frozen. Species are also a consideration.

“For example, we may not like what’s in a manufacturer’s dog food, but their cat cans are acceptable,” Grow said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to devote real estate to four different kibbles that are all similar in formulation, so we vary our selections accordingly in kibble and canned. In regard to freeze dried, dehydrated and raw, ingredients are limited, prices vary and formulations are usually different enough to allow for more choices without redundancy.”

McKay said she has noticed a trend toward merchandising pet food based on protein sources as many pet owners know if their dogs or cats have specific requirements.

“That said, merchandising by natural or holistic is another great option as it follows the trends in many human industries,” she added. “Consumers are going out of their way to shop for ‘all natural’ or ‘holistic’ products.”

Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla., said that retailers might also want to consider highlighting certain health issues, as this is often the catalyst for pet owners making a switch to a premium diet.

“It makes sense to post condition-specific signage, such as: ‘Is your dog a picky eater?’ in the premium section of the food aisle,” Pettyan said.

Sometimes a “try it before you buy it” mentality can also help as pet owners narrow down their choices. This is something that Redwine has used at Odyssey Pets.

“Samples are key,” Redwine said. “If they bring it home and the dog loves it and then turns its nose up at other food, the customer will be back for sure to purchase it.”

At the end of the day, no matter how food is positioned or how creatively a retailer displays it, a store’s food selection sends a message to customers about the brands a retailer believes in. It can also position you as an expert who is available to guide pet owners—and that can be very valuable.

“Despite having a wealth of online information at their fingertips, specialty pet store shoppers still rely on retailers to provide knowledgeable advice about premium pet food brands,” Pettyan said. “Many customers have specific health issues they’re trying to address and are hoping for recommendations to help with these needs. It makes sense for retailers to carry products that they believe in, feel good about recommending and would even use at home with their own pets.”

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