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Puppy and Senior Formulas Lead the Pack

Age- and breed-specific dog foods favor the youngest and oldest pets, with size following closely behind.


Preventive health care is a trend seen throughout the pet food category as today’s owners seek to make a positive difference in their dogs’ lives. And dog owners increasingly believe that high-quality foods contribute to their pets’ health, said Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y. 

“In the Packaged Facts February/March 2017 National Pet Owner Survey, 76 percent more dog owners than in previous years agree that ‘high-quality dog foods are effective for preventive health care,’” Gruber said.

With consumers focused on preventive health care, the dog food category has experienced a rise in formulas designed for a particular breed or life stage, according to industry insiders. 

“Dog food is becoming more particular in their formulations as far as targeting certain pet demographics,” said Tim Deares, sales manager for PureLuxe Pet Foods in Atlanta. “Age- and breed-specific foods are becoming more popular. Foods being formulated directly for certain ages, ailments and breeds are something that give people peace of mind. It helps to know that there are foods that have intentionally been formulated to meet the needs of their pets.”

Jennifer LaPointe, senior brand manager at Solid Gold Pet in Chesterfield, Mo., concurred.

“In general, we are seeing a positive growth trend for age- and breed-specific dog food,” she said. “Looking across sales for the age- and breed-specific products, growth trends are concentrated around puppy and senior dogs.”

With pets living longer, owners recognize the health issues that senior pets face, said Rob Downey, president and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa., adding that puppies have their own unique needs as well.

“[Owners] are now looking for specific ingredients that have been shown through real science to benefit the aging canine or improve the development of their puppy,” Downey said.

“Nutraceuticals like turmeric or coconut oil to help slow the aging process or DHA to help increase brain development in puppies have been generating a lot of buzz lately.”

In the past 18 months, food innovation has centered heavily around toy- and small-breed dogs, LaPointe reported.

“We have watched the toy- and small-breed category quadruple over the past three years with no signs of slowing as more dog owners gravitate toward smaller dogs,” she said.
Puppy food is a popular request, according to pet specialty retailers, especially for large breeds.

“We have seen more people requiring a large-breed formula for their dogs that will grow to be more than 60 pounds, and this I attribute to a more educated customer base,” said Sara Philbrook, manager and marketing for Personal Beast in Portland, Ore.

New Products

Bite-Sized Options for Dogs of All Ages

The latest product introductions in age- and breed-specific dog diets highlight the popularity of smaller pets, longer life spans and consumer focus on high-quality nutrition.

Health Extension recently entered the breed-specific pet food segment with the February launch of its Large Bites Recipe for large-breed dogs, available in 1- and 30-pound bags.

“With this product, calcium and calorie content can be monitored by the provided feeding guidelines that prevent overfeeding,” said Brad Gruber, president of the Deer Park, N.Y.-based company. “This recipe will help lower the risk of skeletal issues, while also helping a puppy cope with the issues associated with rapid growth periods.”

Health Extension also plans to introduce a large-breed formula to its Grain Free line.

At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, Telford, Pa.-based Annamaet Petfoods debuted three products formulated for growing puppies as well as seniors. Annamaet Re-juvenate is a grain-free diet for senior dogs that features wild-caught, sustainable silver carp and coconut oil.

Annamaet Ohana Puppy is a grain- and gluten-free diet that incorporates wild, line-caught Alaskan cod, coconut flour and banana powder with a mix of inulin and fructo-oligo-saccharide (FOS), as well as coconut oil. Lastly, Annamaet Original Puppy is formulated with chicken meal and brown rice, and is free of corn, wheat and soy.

In May, Solid Gold Pet expanded its Mighty Mini toy- and small-breed line. New dry recipes include a Mighty Mini turkey formula for puppies and adult dogs, a Mighty Mini beef formula for dogs of all life stages, and a Mighty Mini salmon weight-control recipe for adult dogs that need to shed a few pounds or need help maintaining a healthy weight, while new Mighty Mini wet foods feature turkey and salmon chunks in gravy.

“Each of these recipes delivers on the consumer need for customized nutrition for their toy- and small-breed dogs,” said Jennifer LaPointe, senior brand manager for the Chesterfield, Mo.-based company.

Also focusing on weight control, PureLuxe Pet Foods in Atlanta launched Healthy Weight Dog formula for indoor senior, less active or overweight dogs. Available in 4- and 24-pound bags, the grain-free food contains fresh turkey as its first ingredient. It has no gluten, corn, soy, wheat, dairy, fillers, byproducts, artificial colors or preservatives, and it is made in the USA.

“It contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin, L-carnitine and taurine,” said Tim Deares, sales manager. “This functional micro-nutrition supports those specific dogs.”

The company also introduced Small Breed Dog formula in 4- and 11-pound bags. It is made with turkey, split peas and salmon, and “equally contains key micro-nutrition for those smaller, highly active dogs,” Deares added.


Get Savvy to Create Maximum Impact

Effective displays do wonders to attract customer interest and open the door to a conversation with educated staff. For the age- and breed-specific food category, experts mostly agreed that creating special sections is the most successful strategy for in-store merchandising.

“Having designated space in a store for a specific dog food category is helpful in pointing the customer in the right direction without them feeling overwhelmed by all of the other options,” said Tim Deares, sales manager for PureLuxe Pet Foods in Atlanta.

Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y., agreed, adding that signage is important to call out specific areas.

“Categorizing the store areas and shelves by life stages and breed enable the consumer to shop by need on a more focused basis to make the shopping experience an easier and less-confusing one,” Gruber said.

At The Yuppy Puppy, which has two locations in Spokane, Wash., shelves are organized by product line.

“Our shelves are all formatted the same, from left to right: puppy, large-breed puppy, small-breed adult formulas, adult formulas (all), large-breed adult formulas, weight-control formulas, senior formulas,” said owner Aquila Brown.

Similarly, Personal Beast in Portland, Ore., arranges diets by life stage and kibble size.

“We have age-specific diets that are divided by size of dog, and consumers are more aware now that large-breed puppies have requirements that small/medium dogs do not,” said Sara Philbrook, manager and marketing. “We display our foods in order of life stage and kibble size, so small breed or small kibble on one shelf with puppy first and senior last.”

​Stefanos Tsartsalis, general manager for Pet Central in New York, said the store displays these formulas next to their counterparts.

“Pet owners are always looking for different, better options for their pets,” he said. “Sometimes something as subtle as a shelf talker is enough to draw the customer’s attention.”

In addition to shelf talkers, Rob Downey, president and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa., recommended endcaps as well as placing point-of-purchase material near the products.

Jennifer LaPointe, senior brand manager at Solid Gold Pet in Chesterfield, Mo., agreed, adding that storefront displays are a good way to capture the customer’s attention, and cross-merchandising simplifies the shopping experience.

“Signage that helps educate [pet owners] on the benefits of these products will help pique their interest and open the door to a personal conversation with recommendations from your store associates,” she said. “I recommend merchandising these displays as a one-stop shop for everything related to the category.

“Include breed size or age-specific collars, toys, grooming supplies, etc., along with the tailored food. This provides a complete shopping solution for that consumer and helps build the basket—a win-win for everyone.”

3 Tips for Promoting Specialty Diets

Savvy companies know publicizing age- and breed-specific diets are key to boosting sales. Manufacturers and retailers offered their most successful techniques to popularize these foods.

1. Through Store Communications

Social media is a great way to disseminate information about a store’s products, said Rob Downey, president and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa.

Aquila Brown, owner of The Yuppy Puppy, which has two locations in Spokane, Wash., said she utilizes the store’s Facebook page and blog to educate customers about these products. 

“We have a monthly newsletter and a corresponding blog post,” she said. “Additionally, we do a weekly Facebook live video discussing different topics. Generally, this is the exact type of subject we cover.” 

While social media can be helpful in getting the word out about age- and breed-specific diets, pet owners might need more information than what can be shared in 280 characters or less. 

“As pets continue to become a more important part of the family, pet parents are more engaged than ever before in gathering information relative to their pet’s needs before they make a purchase,” said Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension in Deer Park, N.Y. “While a good majority of this information is available online, it’s a good idea for the retailer to utilize their website as a source of information by making sure they put the information in a user-friendly, concise, understandable and categorical way. That, ultimately, drives the consumer into their store.”  

2. Host In-Store Events

Pet specialty retailers would be wise to take advantage of the support that is offered by their manufacturer partners, said industry insiders. 

Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa., offers in-store training and webinars to help customers learn about its products, Downey said.  

“Retailers could also host fun, buzzworthy events tailored to these pets and their owners,” LaPointe said. “Small-breed happy hours, puppy play dates or senior pet parties are a fun way to not only get consumers in your store and celebrate these unique categories, but also make consumers aware of a tailored food offering that might be ideal for their pet.” 

3. Offer Samples

“The best way to get the word out about these products are samples,” said Stefanos Tsartsalis, general manager for Pet Central in New York. “Seeing a customer come in with their pet and watching them age or gain weight, it is easy to supply a sample of an alternative formula while explaining to them the benefit of the switch. Usually, the customer is not only happy, but is now loyal to your company for helping them with a problem they didn’t even know they had.”

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