Dog owners want nothing but the best for their pets, which is why premium diets continue to capture a large share of the pet food market.
As dog owners continue to embrace premium diets for their dogs, the number of companies that offer these types of foods has skyrocketed, resulting in marketplace growth.
Consumers are attracted to premium dog food, in part because foods marketed as “premium” align with current consumer expectations for what they want to feed their pets, according to market research firm Wakefield Research. In a survey conducted by the firm in March, 62 percent of dog owners said they buy premium food because they feel it is the healthiest option for their dog.
The purchasing trends at Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in Southern California, bears the research out.
“As our clients become more aware, informed and concerned where and how food is being sourced, and the quality of those sources, they will seek out the premium diets, wanting the healthiest option for their companion animals,” said founder Janene Zakrajsek.
Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has two stores in Pittsburgh and Greensburg, Pa., agreed.
“We are seeing more and more customers that not only want more animal protein, but also higher-quality ingredients and sourcing, including non-GMO and sustainable ingredients,” she said.
However, functional benefits like those associated with pets’ health are not the only factors owners consider when they purchase foods for their dogs. Wakefield Research found that emotional benefits are also at play. Nearly half (45 percent) of dog owners surveyed by Wakefield said they buy premium food because they feel that their dog prefers it, and 31 percent do so because they feel it will make their dogs happier.
Fortunately, pet owners have many options these days when it comes to choosing the type of premium food for their pets. In the dry premium dog food category, Blum reported that limited-ingredient diets are popular, while raw alternative foods, such as freeze dried and dehydrated as well as raw-coated kibble, are in demand in the raw segment. Raw-coated kibble gives consumers the convenience of kibble with the benefits of raw, Blum added.
“More growth than ever is being seen in the raw and freeze-dried food categories since these types of diets are viewed as being closer to nature and what dogs eat in the wild,” said Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y.
Samantha Henson, clinical pet nutritionist at Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich., said that raw diets, including frozen, freeze-dried and dehydrated foods, are trending “off the charts” with the store’s customers.
“It only takes one positive improvement noticed in a pet to make someone continue with a food, and that is usually accomplished within a week or two of being on a balanced raw diet,” Henson said.
In addition to freeze dried and raw, wet toppers and mixers are also gaining steam, “as dog owners continue to switch up their dog’s food with new flavors and textures,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.
Premium Proteins and Puppy Formulas
Health Extension recently launched its first breed-specific product, which is a “highly palatable large-breed recipe formulated as a complete and balanced food,” said Brad Gruber, president of the Deer Park, N.Y.-based company, adding that calcium and calorie content can be monitored by the provided feeding guidelines that aim to prevent overfeeding.
The company also introduced four GMO-free and grain-free canned dog recipes.
Tuffy’s Pet Foods, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands, added unique proteins such as venison, duck, pork and kangaroo to its limited-ingredients line, said Dan Schmitz, national sales manager.
WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., is expanding its raw and freeze-dried offerings, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience. The company has introduced Wellness Core RawRev Puppy, which combines grain-free kibble with raw, freeze-dried meat, as well as two small-breed dry food recipes: Wellness Core Small Breed Puppy and Wellness Core Small Breed Healthy Weight.
Manufacturers are also innovating in premium, alternative food formats, such as toppers and broths, which have been successful new additions to the shelves at All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C.
“While bone broth is not a new concept for pets, having ready-made bone broth available for purchase that is not a powder has been a great addition to our alternative category,” said Alison Schwartz, general manager.
Samples Sell, Information Is Key
There are a number of creative ways in which pet specialty retailers can market the premium dog food products that they sell.
At Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich., marketing starts with educating employees.
“I make it my mission to make sure every single employee goes through my training program so that they feel comfortable talking to customers and answering any questions they may have,” said Samantha Henson, the store’s clinical pet nutritionist. “We also showcase our premium foods by starting each front aisle with a freezer.”
Education is also important at All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., where general manager Alison Schwartz recently held a raw food seminar to educate customers about adding raw components to their pets’ diets.
“We have also offered BOGO offers on bone broth when purchased in combination with freeze-dried or dehydrated diets,” she said.
Petagogy, which has stores in Pittsburgh and Greensburg, Pa., frequently runs “food of the month” campaigns with in-store displays to promote newer foods.
“Additionally, we do an annual customer appreciation celebration that includes representatives from different food companies who hand out samples and talk to customers about their products,” said co-owner Heather Blum.
Tuffy’s Pet Foods, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands, offers samples for retailers to give customers during in-store demos or other events.
“We also encourage a Refer a Friend program where pet parents can interact and share stories of our food,” said national sales manager Dan Schmitz, adding that the online referral program can lead to cash awards for customers.
In addition to merchandising natural products together, Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., said social media platforms can supplement a retailer’s efforts to communicate the benefits of these products.
Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y., agreed that a retailer’s website should use be as a source of information and make it user-friendly.
“To further support that effort, the retailer’s site should be linked to their vendor’s websites so that the consumer has access to specific and more detailed information that they seek. That ultimately drives the consumer into their store,” he said.
It Takes All Sorts
With so many options in the premium dog food category, it can be daunting for pet specialty retailers to decide what products to carry.
Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y., suggests that retailers seek advice from their partners in the industry.
“Vendor and distributor reps are good sources of information since they touch so many other retailers in an area and should know which product mix is working for them,” he said.
At All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., general manager Alison Schwartz said that, she tries not to duplicate products in as many categories as possible and also looks for products priced at both ends of the spectrum to meet the various economic needs of pet owners.
“We focus on product diversity rather than providing 10 different chicken and rice recipes for 10 price ranges,” Schwartz said.
Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich., offers its customers a wide variety of brands.
“We carry more than 50 brands of food with more than 35 of them falling in the holistic/premium category, so it is, by far, our main priority,” said Samantha Henson, the store’s clinical pet nutritionist.
Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass., agreed that product diversity is essential, as there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for dogs, so retailers should carry a variety of textures, forms and flavors.
“By stocking shelves with recipes that cater to varying nutritional requirements and palates, [retailers will] be better equipped to help the natural pet food shopper find what they’re looking for,” she said.
At Petagogy, which has stores in Pittsburgh and Greensburg, Pa., the staff researches a manufacturer’s processes and history, as well as a product’s specific ingredients, before deciding whether or not to bring it in to the store. The store also tries to find high-quality foods at multiple price points that offer something that other products on the shelves don’t, said co-owner Heather Blum.
“With the explosion of products in this segment, shelf space can become limited very quickly, so new products have to have some sort of unique feature that makes them stand out in order to compete with bestselling premium products that are leaders in the segment,” Blum said.