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Some Still Bark for Organic, But Price Becoming a Factor



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There’s a perception among consumers that products sporting the “organic” or “natural” tag are safer and more healthful, noted David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, a Rockville, Md.-based consumer research firm.  

But a quick scan of price tags among comparison shoppers shows organic and natural products come at a premium price when compared to similar non-organic or non-natural products.

The rise of organic and natural pet food alternatives stems from pet deaths from tainted pet food that led to massive pet food recalls in 2007, Sprinkle stated in a column he wrote for PetFoodIndustry.com.

In 2007 and since, some pet food customers were sent scurrying for an alternative for their pets, which in some cases turned out to be organic, natural or both types of pet food.

Since 2007, organic and natural pet food and treat brands have exploded, with manufacturers knowing full well they can charge more, double and even triple for these labels, even when differences in quality is negligible, according to Consumer Reports.

“Buying organic does not necessarily mean there’s more health and nutrition benefits,” said Lisa Herzig, a nutrition professor at Fresno State College, who was quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times column about organic foods.

“The pesticide content will be higher with conventional produce, but it’s still at safe levels,” Herzig said.

In Herzig’s estimation, the much higher price isn’t justified.

As the conventional pet food chain has become safer and as consumers wise up to the real rather than inflated value of organic and natural labels, growth in the organic category has been lethargic of late.

The Simmons National Consumer Survey shows the shopper base for organic pet foods has not grown in the past couple of years, with the purchasing rate for organic pet food actually slipping between 2011 and 2015, from 3.5 to 3 percent.

Packaged Facts survey data show 56 percent of dog owners and 44 percent of cat owners agree that concerns over pet food contamination and product safety are key to their pet food purchasing decisions.

Moreover, 66 percent of pet owners who purchase natural pet products agree that natural or organic pet foods are safer than regular pet foods.

With the U.S. economy improving but still far from the heights from which it’s fallen, organic and other superpremium pet foods will inevitably meet with significant price resistance, even among the most devoted of pet owners, Sprinkle noted.

Packaged Facts survey data show that 48 percent of U.S. pet product buyers somewhat or strongly agree that if natural and organic pet products were more affordable where they shopped, they would buy them more often, while 66 percent of U.S. pet product buyers overall either somewhat or strongly agree that many pet products are becoming too expensive. 

Because so many recalled pet products are sourced in China or other countries with scant regulation when it comes to pet product safety, 61 percent of dog owners and half of cat owners in the U.S. actively seek out pet foods made domestically, and Made in USA has become a major positioning point in the pet food marketplace, Sprinkle stated in a column for PetFoodIndustry.com.   

Even more telling is the move by consumers away from big brands to smaller, locally manufactured pet food brands, said Sprinkle, with 38 percent of dog owners and 34 percent of cat owners opting to buy their pet food from smaller companies they feel they can trust. 

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