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Dog Owners Pursue Specialty Diets

As owners pursue specialty and functional diets for their dogs, manufacturers respond with quality options from breed- and life-stage-specific to limited-ingredient and weight-loss formulas.


Manufacturers offer life-stage-specific foods, from puppy to senior formulas, to address specific needs.


Today’s pet owners pursue higher nutrition for themselves and for their pets. As the lines between human nutrition and high-quality pet food continue to merge, market demand for dog food also comprises specialty and functional diets.

“Pet parents want specialized diets because they understand the role a quality diet can play in their pet’s overall health and well-being,” said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Amarillo, Texas-based Merrick Pet Care Inc. “These diets represent the positive ingredients pet parents are seeking without the negatives they are avoiding.”

Royal Pets Market & Resort, which has two locations in Florida, carries a wide variety of foods, including puppy, senior, weight- loss, grain-free, breed-specific, limited-ingredient and raw formulas, said Liza Mackey, director of marketing.

“We always talk to the customer first before making a recommendation,” Mackey said. “We need specifics; what is going on with the pet, the age, breed, activity level, or any health issues.”

At Parker’s, a Natural Dog & Cat Market in Chicago, owner Katie Pottenger noted a call for puppy and large-breed formulas.

“The demand definitely is growing for more specialty diets, but I think that’s because of all the marketing around them,” Pottenger said. “Customers want to think their dog is special and needs special food beyond an all-life-stages formula.”

However, Pottenger added that specialty inventory at Parker’s is limited to foods showing a differentiation on the ingredient panel.

Limiting the Ingredients
Dogs with food sensitivities might experience itchy skin, increased scratching, runny eyes, ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea and paw chewing. A customer struggling with these issues will turn to their pet specialty retailer for premium-quality limited-ingredient recipes and support, said Jessica Holtz, senior manager, sales and marketing effectiveness for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

For these canines, what’s not included in a pet food is as important as what is, said Bryan Nieman, brand director at Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.

“Limited-ingredient diets offer a single source of meat protein with as few ingredients as possible to meet the nutritional requirements of the dog,” Holtz said. “These diets support the growing number of pets with food sensitivities and specific dietary needs.”

At Natural Pawz, which has multiple locations in the Houston area, co-owner Biff Picone said the stores carry limited-ingredient diets, though it’s “primarily because of allergies, in order to get a baseline with a minimal number of ingredients.”

Other reasons for feeding LIDs might include weight problems, medical issues or as a supplement to raw feeders.

Along these lines, Petcurean announced the launch of three new canine recipes formulated to offer a single source of meat protein with as few ingredients as possible, Holtz said. Go! Sensitivity + Shine limited-ingredient recipes are available in premium-quality duck, salmon or venison, she added.

“An LID recipe also might be beneficial for pets that have not been successful on traditional low-allergen diets,” Holtz said. “Our new Go! LID recipes are ideal for all pets but particularly are suited for those with food sensitivities.”

Merrick is introducing a full line of single-source animal-protein limited-ingredient diets, Brace said.

“These new dry and canned recipes keep it simple with complete and balanced nutrition from a single, USA-sourced animal protein and the fewest, most essential natural ingredients for pets with food sensitivities,” Brace said.

Nature’s Variety continues to expand the limited-ingredient diet selections in their Instinct line of grain-free and raw foods for dogs, said Eric Emmenegger, Instinct senior brand manager for the St. Louis company.

Instinct Limited Ingredient Kibble features four grain-free formulas, each with one animal protein source including turkey, lamb, duck or rabbit. The foods contain no grain, gluten, potato, dairy, eggs, chicken, beef or fish, Emmenegger added.

Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Dallas-based Odyssey Pets, agreed that limited-ingredient and single-source protein diets are a great way to weed out allergen culprits.

“If a dog improves on the diet though, I always recommend trying to introduce other proteins, one by one, as a sort of trial-and-error process,” Redwine said.

Life-Stage Specific
“One of the appeals to a life-stage-specific product is that it takes the guesswork out of finding the right food for the pet,” Nieman said. “In the human diet, meal decisions usually start with a basic decision of meat, poultry or fish.”

This “center of the plate” mentality is the core of Fromm Family Foods’ Four-Star and Gold lines, he added. Broad protein categories like poultry, meat and fish allow a focus on life stage and lifestyle within the lines, he said.

Fromm recently introduced two expansions to its Gold Line: Prairie Gold and Gold Coast. Prairie Gold is a red-meat-based, grain-free line featuring beef, pork and lamb. The product comes in adult, large-breed adult, puppy and large-breed puppy formulas.

Weight Loss
Fromm’s Gold Coast formula is ocean-fish based, featuring whitefish and salmon, is grain-free and currently comes in a Weight Management formula, Nieman said.

“Variety continues to be a focus in the market as more pet parents are in tune with how their pets perform on various diets including protein-specific and grain-free diets,” Nieman said. 

Nature’s Variety’s Instinct line introduced Healthy Weight grain-free kibble for dogs.

“Our Healthy Weight formulas have less fat, fewer calories and added Raw Boost—pure, delicious and fully satisfying freeze-dried raw pieces,” Emmenegger said. “Together, the kibble plus freeze-dried raw gives pets a healthful diet that is highly nutritious and satisfies a pet’s carnivorous cravings and nutritional needs while helping them lose or maintain weight.”

Low Phosphorus
An increasing number of dogs are being diagnosed and treated for early to moderate stages of kidney failure, said Karen Scoggins, CEO of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.

“Dogs diagnosed with kidney/renal issues often are prescribed a lower-phosphorus diet,” she said.

The newly released My Perfect Pet Low Phosphorus Blend is formulated to meet these dietary requisites, Scoggins said.

“Using fresh muscle meats, which are naturally lower in phosphorus, allows us to formulate a diet meeting AAFCO nutrient profiles for protein while restricting the phosphorus levels to meet veterinarian-recommended levels for dogs with kidney/renal issues,” Scoggins said.

Diets that include ground bones might contain actual levels of certain minerals, including phosphorus, that are significantly higher than the minimum value stated on the label, she said.

“Using USDA-graded muscle meats eliminates the guesswork and enables us to claim exact values of all nutrients, including phosphorus,” she said.

While lower-protein diets often are recommended for dogs eating dry food, fresh muscle meats are easier to digest and naturally lower in phosphorus than meat meals or diets that include ground bones, Scoggins said.

Marketing Specialty Diets
Retailers and manufacturers agreed that education and knowledge are critical components to marketing specialty and functional products.

“Customers look to their retailers to help them make educated decisions,” Nieman said. “For success in selling specialty diets, retailers should have a good understanding of products and brands.”

Additionally, retailers utilizing POS materials, shelf talkers and artwork to highlight brands and products will have a better chance of drawing consumer attention and starting a dialogue about these diets, Nieman said.

However, retailers often are inclined to promote all-life-stages formulations.

“I don’t do much marketing of specialty foods; personally I am more of a fan of all-life-stages foods than specialty,” Pottenger said.

“Of the over 20 brands that we carry, a few offer weight management, small breed or senior options,” Redwine said. “In my opinion, a high-quality food is good for all breeds and all life stages.”

All agreed, however, that offering nutritional consultations with well-versed staff members is central to assisting customers in dietary decisions for their pets.

“We do not market specific foods, per se,” Mackey said. “Instead, our philosophy is ‘Come in and talk to our associates to find out the best foods for your pet.’

“We also recommend that pet parents speak with their veterinarian before switching a food,” she added.


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

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