Pet Food Manufacturers Go Transparent
Companies are making it easier for pet owners to see what’s inside their cans and bags of pet food.
With the term “natural” now so ubiquitous in the pet food space, companies must think hard about the best ways to stand out from their competitors. The trend for natural human foods, the humanization of pets and the resulting shift toward natural pet food has been a huge boon to the pet industry. But with natural pet foods so mainstream, savvy consumers are looking for new ways to distinguish which products really are the most healthful for their pets.
According to the Packaged Facts report Natural, Organic, and Eco-Friendly Pet Products in the U.S., 6th Edition, sales of natural pet food reached $8.2 billion in 2016—a 25 percent slice of the market. In fact, sales have increased year-on-year since 2012, firmly establishing the category as one of the most profitable within the industry.
But with so many pet food products labeled as “natural,” how, exactly, can companies differentiate their products from the masses of others available?
One of the emerging trends in the industry is the move toward “clean label” pet foods. Clean label foods are broadly defined as those made from whole ingredients such as fruits and vegetables. They also have a much shorter and simpler ingredient list than standard products, and are free from synthetic ingredients such as artificial flavors, colors and preservatives.
The problem, though, is that no standard regulatory guidelines exist for clean label pet foods. This can lead to confusion among consumers when comparing the health benefits of different brands.
The solution? Forward-thinking companies are now becoming increasingly transparent about their manufacturing processes and educating consumers about the ways in which the ingredients in their foods meet pet health requirements.
Pet Product News spoke to three companies that manufacture pet food to find out more about their manufacturing processes, company ethos, and the role of transparency and authenticity in the ongoing success of the brand.
Canidae is an independent, family-owned company based in Norco, Calif. The company’s Ethos Pet Nutrition facility opened in 2012 and is dedicated to the research and development of its premium pet food formulas.
“Our goal has never been to be the biggest pet food company, but the best,” said Rafi Kalachian, vice president of marketing and product management at Canidae.
“We have an on-site lab that tests each ingredient so we can continue to make only the best pet food possible that pet owners can trust. Further, we’ve retained and hired the best people in the industry to provide our customers with a unique, quality product that we’re proud of.”
Traceability is integral to the company’s mission.
“It’s why we started our own facility, Ethos,” Kalachian said. “At Canidae, it’s part of our everyday protocol to know where each ingredient is coming from, and we continue to work towards a future where we’re involved on an even deeper level.”
The company also seeks to make its processes and practices visible to pet owners, who seek to buy foods from brands they know they can trust.
“We communicate Canidae quality through our packaging, our website, our social media and, notably, our five-star ratings on various review sites,” Kalachian said. “Word-of-mouth [is] a factor for us as well . . . We’ve emphasized through our packaging design and overall messaging that our products are high quality and at an affordable price point.”
Looking to the future, Canidae recognizes the potential for development of new categories within the natural pet food space and is investing in research.
“At this time, though, we still believe that there’s nothing better than a dry, extruded pet food as it pertains to digestibility, safety and the convenience of feeding your pet,” Kalachian added.
Tewksbury, Mass.-based WellPet is an independent, family-owned business that makes food and treats for dogs and cats under the Wellness, Old Mother Hubbard, Holistic Select, Eagle Pack, Sojos and Whimzees brands.
“At WellPet, we’re a family of pet parents,” said Lisa Laich, vice president of marketing. “We understand what our customers want from their pet’s food because we want those same things for our pets: quality, natural nutrition that helps them feel their best . . . We have something for every pet, no matter their age, life stage, breed or dietary requirements.”
The company also understands that “recognizing ingredients, where they come from and what their benefits are is essential for today’s pet parent,” Laich said. “In today’s world, information is too readily available for us to not raise questions about our pet’s food. That’s why we only use the finest ingredients in all of our recipes and have developed an extensive quality assurance program, guaranteeing that all of our products are safe, pure and balanced.”
The company considers transparency an integral part of its relationship with customers.
“Although natural pet food shoppers are highly educated about the food they choose for their dog or cat, they shouldn’t have to sift through layers of information to find the answers they are looking for,” Laich said. “We make it easier by clearly calling out key ingredients and benefits on our packaging, and making ourselves readily available on social media or through our customer service team to answer any questions they might have.”
In the future, WellPet expects the natural pet food category to continue to grow, particularly through subcategories within the niche.
“Raw, freeze-fried and dehydrated foods are all poised for growth as more pet parents look for pure, natural ingredients to fuel their whole-body health,” Laich said.
Horizon Pet Food
Horizon Pet Food in Rosthern, Saskatchewan, Canada, is a manufacturer of premium dry dog and cat food. The company deems accountability to be the foundation of its business culture.
“[We take] full ownership of every aspect of how our food reaches a consumer’s home,” said co-founder Jeff English. “From formula development to ingredient sourcing to manufacturing to packaging and product placement through specialty retailers, we are 100 percent accountable for each and every small decision.”
Self-manufacturing is at the heart of Horizon Pet Food’s ability to control the final product that reaches customers.
“We know consumers are increasingly aware, and increasingly appreciative, of food companies that own the sourcing and manufacturing process themselves,” he said.
There also are advantages that arise from being based in Canada rather than the U.S., English said.
“We can source several ingredients from local growers that are free of GMOs, growth hormones and steroids . . . That is sometimes harder to do in other markets,” English said. “We can also offer significant value for the level of quality of our formulas because we operate in a currency that is predominantly lower than the U.S. currency. It’s better to save there than cutting the level or quality of ingredients.”
The company also recognizes that pet owners often know what they want in a pet food—and a pet food company.
“They want and expect authentic, honest products from companies that respect their needs to balance a budget while doing the best they can in feeding their pet . . . They also value transparency from the company on how they do things and will expect a track record to stand behind,” English added.
Looking forward, the company expects specialty pet food to become more commoditized, leading to increased competition and pricing pressure. But English remains optimistic about the long-term forecast.
“Innovation will prevail,” he said. “There will be new products and nutritional advancements, and we fully expect specialty retail to lead that charge. It’s a cycle, and we don’t see that slowing down at all.”
Richard Rowlands is a writer and marketer for the pet industry, and a keen pet enthusiast. He works with pet businesses to improve their marketing and increase profits. To find out more, visit richardrowlands.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Pet Product News.