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Gut Instinct

What’s good for the people in the family is often beneficial to the canine contingent; in this way, interest in digestive health products for dogs is on an upward trajectory.


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As with human family members, a healthy digestive system for dogs plays a strong role in overall health. When problems arise and an imbalance occurs, Fido can become susceptible to a host of maladies.

For these reasons, consumers are on the hunt for more healthful options, and because digestive health is among consumers’ top concerns in the human health food category, many pet owners are extending that focus to their pets’ food, according to Matt Keller, brand manager of Supreme Source, a brand of Ogden, Utah-based American Pet Nutrition.

“The sheer volume and daily barrage of research showing the benefits of digestive health has everyone buzzing about new super beverages and foods that protect and improve gut health,” Keller said. “It’s a natural consequence that this strong affinity towards improving our own well-being, and that of our loved ones, includes furry family members.”

Sales and market trends indicate that brands focused on meeting the digestive needs of family pets are winning at the shelf, Keller added. 

As the overall health benefits of probiotics become more widely understood, the awareness is being reflected in pet supplements, said Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing, pet and retail, for FoodScience Corp. in Williston, Vt.

“Pet health trends follow those in human health closely, and this is truly reflected in digestive health,” Archambault said. “People are looking for natural health solutions, taking probiotics and utilizing specialty diets more than ever before.”

Probiotics help with digestion and gut health while boosting the immune system through short-chain fatty acids that prevent the growth of harmful bacteria’s such as E. coli and salmonella, said Immacula Pierre, CEO and co-founder of Iconic Paws in Woodbridge, Va.

“A healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut can help with everything from diarrhea and digestive problems to anxiety and even inflammation,” Pierre said. “Whether a dog is young and springy or getting up there in age, probiotics and prebiotics are an important part of any pet’s wellness routine.”

Kyla Sternlieb, founder and president of Under the Weather in South Burlington, Vt., noted that a study published in April 2017 by Healthy Paws, which compiled pet insurance claims data, found that stomach issues are the No. 1 reason for a trip to the veterinarian.

“These digestive problems might include vomiting and diarrhea, or an upset stomach due to stress and anxiety,” Sternlieb said. “It is very common for vets to suggest feeding a bland diet until a dog’s digestive tract settles down, giving it time to heal, and then weaning the dog back to its regular diet when healthy digestion is restored.”

At Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., co-owner Denise Strong has noted an increase in the number of dogs experiencing digestive issues, and a corresponding call for product solutions. In answer, Strong carries a variety of selections, including foods formulated for sensitive stomachs or digestive issues, supplements and prebiotics.

“I also carry numerous single-source protein treats for dogs with digestive issues,” she said.

Canned pumpkin is the choice solution for digestive issues with shoppers at Dolly’s Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore.

“Everybody seems to want pumpkin,” said owner Anna DePaolo. “Incorporating a spoonful a day is great for digestive problems.”

When recommending a probiotic supplement, DePaolo prefers Flora4 by Carna4.

“I like that it’s plant based, making it an easy sell,” she said.

Carla Pereira, co-owner of Piglet’s Pantry in Mount Dora, Fla., said that while canned pumpkin and a probiotic supplement are in the mix, the most popular offering for digestive health is Piglet’s Pantry’s own product, Charcoal Bonz, a peanut butter cookie with activated charcoal added.

“That’s a natural way to detox the system and settle the stomach,” Pereira said. “After a few weeks, pet owners notice that the dog’s digestion is better, as is the smell of their breath and their stools.”

Marketing

Guiding the Consumer

Prominently placing products that support digestive or overall health in a store’s supplements section will assist consumers looking for natural sources to help maintain their pet’s well-being, according to Kyla Sternlieb, founder and president of Under the Weather in South Burlington, Vt.

“Further, retailers can promote an ongoing campaign with specials for products that are commonly sold during certain times of the year,” Sternlieb said. “For example, joint supplements for dogs that exercise more in the spring or immunity boosters before the winter settles in.”

At Dolly’s Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., where canned pumpkin sought after for its tummy-friendly qualities, the product is stocked with canned foods, but also displayed on endcaps and rotated throughout the year on a seasonal display table, said owner Anna DePaolo.

“I have it everywhere and sell a lot of it,” she said. “Customers don’t always notice it in the canned section, but everybody seems to want pumpkin, so it’s kind of in their faces.”

Retailers can create their own educational content or look to brands for support in the effort to become a pet care partner to their customers, said Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing, pet and retail, for FoodScience Corp. in Williston, Vt.

It’s no longer enough to communicate the health benefits of a product; pet owners need assistance throughout the transition to a new food and ongoing information, said Matt Keller, brand manager of Supreme Source for Ogden, Utah-based American Pet Nutrition.

“Consumers have become familiar with digestive health but need help in navigating the details,” he said.

Brands reinforcing credible and relatable information not only speak with one voice to employees and consumers, but also create passionate and informed brand advocates, Keller added.

New Products

Healthful Solutions Sell

Consumers are looking for health solutions that match what they seek for themselves, said Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing, pet and retail, for FoodScience Corp. in Williston, Vt. The market is flush with products that heed this call.

American Pet Nutrition has included its WellBoost formula, which is made with USDA certified organic seaweed, in its Supreme Source branded grain-free dog and cat dry recipes. The seaweed is a rich source of nutrients and prebiotics to help promote pet digestion, said Matt Keller, brand manager of Supreme Source for Ogden, Utah-based American Pet Nutrition.

Sourced from the waters of Nova Scotia and sun-dried, the seaweed is blended into Supreme Source pet foods, adding a powerful antioxidant to promote health, longevity and digestion, assist in supporting intestinal health, and boost the overall immune system, Keller said.

American Pet Nutrition’s grain- and potato-free Elevate dry dog food features highly digestible protein and real meat, a blend of antioxidants to support the immune system and healthy digestion, as well as betaine, a product of the natural crystals extracted from sugar beets to support healthier digestion by reducing the effects of a dysfunctional gut and intestinal infections, Keller added.

Iconic Paws recently launched a prebiotic and probiotic supplement for dogs. The premium-quality powder balances gut bacteria, supports digestion, and eases gas, bloating and diarrhea while promoting health and fighting anxiety, said Immacula Pierre, CEO and co-founder of the Woodbridge, Va.-based company.

“The formula is made with three canine-specific strains and contains 5 billion CFUs (colony forming units) including Lactobacillus brevis, which balances out the body’s good and bad gut bacteria,” Pierre said.

The prebiotic and probiotic powder is commonly used as a daily digestive supplement to keep a pet’s systems balanced, particularly a dog prone to getting into human food or other nonfood items that can stress their delicate system, Pierre said.

“Some pet owners rely on the Iconic Paws prebiotic and probiotic powder for an anxious pet, as anxiety can lead to stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea,” Pierre added.

Under the Weather recently unveiled an improved line of freeze-dried bland diets. The formula contains electrolytes, which help to maintain hydration in dogs experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, as well as healthful levels of minerals, said Kyla Sternlieb, founder and president of the South Burlington, Vt.-based company.

The recipes are made with cage-free white meat chicken and turkey, free-range beef hamburger and bison, and wild-caught salmon. All ingredients are USA sourced and manufactured, Sternlieb said.

The freeze-dried ingredients have a three-year shelf life, making it possible for pet owners to store the product in their cupboards until the next time their dog needs a bland diet.

Consumer Education

The Need to know

Pet store employees who can answer consumers’ questions about their pets’ digestive health are key to encouraging sales of products formulated to promote healthy guts.

For this reason, the ability to assist consumers in gaining knowledge is central to employee education, said Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing, pet and retail, for FoodScience Corp. in Williston, Vt.

“Some pets may simply need a change in diet to address digestive issues; others may need more support in the form of probiotics or additional fiber,” Archambault said. “Everyone has access to both good and bad digestive health information, but sometimes this information is simply incorrect or too difficult, or impractical, to translate into action.”

Determining the needs of the individual dog requires a bit of detective work and plenty of conversation, according to pet specialty retailers.

Ascertaining the type of digestive issues a dog is experiencing is the first step toward making a recommendation, said Denise Strong, co-owner of Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz.

It’s a discussion that can take time before arriving at the root of the problem, added Carla Pereira, co-owner of Piglet’s Pantry in Mount Dora, Fla.

“I want to find out what they are currently feeding their dog and what it is experiencing,” she said. “Sometimes, it can take awhile to figure out what is going on.”

Before making a purchase, today’s consumers are very involved in their own educational process, said Kyla Sternlieb, founder and president of Under the Weather in South Burlington, Vt. For this reason, it is important for retailers to ensure their staff members are knowledgeable and can confidently assist in recommendations or direct consumers to online resources for additional research.

“Many consumers will pay a premium to shop in stores where staff is able to provide value-added information,” she added.

Competency is everything, Strong said.

“Full knowledge of the products I carry here at Pawz On Main is critical to sales.”

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