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New Highs for Natural Dog & Cat Food

Natural cat and dog food is meeting new highs as the category focuses on providing the best possible foods for pets’ health and well-being.


PPN LLC at Furly's

The movement toward better-quality foods for humans is a trend that has trickled down to the family pet. Consumers today are seeking high-quality, grain-free foods that will benefit their companion animals’ overall health and wellness. In their search, they are looking for brands that offer not only good ingredients, but also secure quality ingredients from reputable sources, and increasingly, from the U.S. 

Michelle Schell, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., said the company is seeing growth in natural, organic, raw and freeze-dried categories in both food and treats.

“The desire for clean labels and responsible sourcing are following the same trends in pets as the human food trends,” she said. “It makes sense that since many people’s dogs are their ‘kids,’ they want the same high standards for their pet as they do for themselves and their human children.”

Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn., noted several trends in the natural category, including the continuing momentum of complete and balanced formulas.

“As new pet parents come into the category, they’re looking for better-quality foods that offer all of the recommended nutritional requirements right out of the package and are convenient to feed,” she said. “Interest in freeze-dried products is also increasing for many of the same reasons. We’re also seeing a greater consumer interest in finding out where ingredients are sourced, as [consumers] are demanding Made in the USA.”

Premiumization and humanization trends are two key drivers of the natural movement for cat and dog food, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.

“Pet parents are willing to buy higher-quality foods that are more like the food that they themselves eat, such as grain- and gluten-free foods as well as foods that look more like those foods that they personally eat,” she said. “Another trend consumers are looking for is more healthful products including products that are designed for different life stages and/or foods and treats that are breed specific.”

Along these lines, industry insiders said consumers are looking for products with easily recognized ingredients that they can readily pronounce, as they associate such ingredients to be key for good nutrition and good health. Additionally, they are looking for products that do not contain artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

The superpremium natural and organic segment continues to work overtime to meet growing pet owner interest in natural, high-quality diets for pets, said Mark Sapir, vice president of marketing for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas. 

“We know pet parents want the very best for their pets in terms of quality, nutrition and taste, and that’s key to influencing innovation in pet nutrition and driving us to create options that surpass those currently in the marketplace,” he said. “For example, interest in ancestral canine diets is on the rise overall as pet parents seek ways to feed their dogs as they may have eaten in the wild.”

What’s New
At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., this year Redbarn launched an extension and re-brand of its Redbarn Canned Dog Food, adding a pâté line that features functional ingredients to support a dog’s optimal health, Schell said.  

“We featured many ingredients that are popular in the human markets such as dandelion greens, coconut oil and green-lipped mussels that help to support healthy immune systems, joints, skin and coat, and several other common health concerns that pet parents face,” Schell said. “When you look at the trends in the human food markets that have translated into pet foods—such as limited ingredients and gluten/grain free—launching a functional line of dog food just made sense.”

Also at Global Pet Expo, Bravo launched a major rebranding initiative, including two new dog products: Bravo Homestyle Complete freeze-dried dinners and Bravo Crunchy Delights baked treats for dogs.

“Up until this point we only offered fresh-frozen raw foods and various lines of freeze-dried or dry-roasted treats,” Schubert said. “We made the decision to focus on more species-specific products as a part of our rebranding effort; we wanted to appeal to a broader demographic, and we were hoping to carve out some extra real estate at retail.”

Building on a heritage of innovation in grain-free, high-protein nutrition for pets, Merrick launched two grain-free diets this year with freeze-dried raw pieces and single-source animal proteins to meet the needs of more pets: Merrick Backcountry and Merrick Limited Ingredient Diet for cats and dogs, Sapir said.

Caru Pet Food has expanded its treat line with Caru Soft ’n Tasty Baked Bites made from venison, salmon and lamb. 

“The change came about as customers were asking for a good fish treat as they noted that very few good ones were available,” Pettyan said. “As well, we had several customers who said that their dogs were allergic and/or had digestive issues with beef and chicken, so our goal was to make available to customers a greater range of treats that would address their concerns of being able to buy a high-quality, trustworthy treat for dogs that have a food allergy to the typical protein such as beef and chicken.”

Marketing Measures
Redbarn provides a lot of retail support for its new line, such as shelf talkers, channel strips, a tear pad that lists the benefits of all of the functional ingredients that are in the foods, along with a BOGO coupon and several other “silent salesman” types of tools, Schell said.  

“We are also doing food demos/giveaways and training for retail stores that will help the staff learn about the features and benefits of the foods so it is easier for them to answer customer questions,” Schell said.

Education is the best way to sell food, Schubert said. One of the key pieces in Bravo’s educational program is “Bravo Beginnings,” a guide for feeding raw.

“We work on teaching [retailers] about the philosophy behind feeding raw, the benefits to the companion animals, how to best match customers with the right products, how to transition dogs and cats over to our products, etc.,” she said. “We find that the better-educated retailers have the most success, as they’re better able to outline the options for customers who come in with specific requests for products.   

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News

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