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Functional Resolutions

Today’s pet owners are pursuing specialty and functional diets for their canine family members, and manufacturers are responding with diverse, high-quality selections.


Consumers with dogs that have specific nutritional needs are increasingly looking for specialty and functional diets, such as weight-management or life-stage formulas, to not only meet basic dietary requirements, but also resolve particular issues and promote a healthier immune system, according to industry insiders.  

“With the continued pet food humanization trend, and just as they enhance their own diets, consumers are now searching for ways to improve their dogs’ diets with food, supplements and toppers that feature specialized functional ingredients,” said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.  

Dog owners shopping for these foods are generally seeking high-quality ingredients in their choices, insiders said. 

“Many dogs have allergies or aversions to certain proteins, grains or other ingredients found in average pet foods,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. “As a result, customers are looking for variety in flavors, a limited number of wholesome ingredients and an appealing aroma that will entice their pal to eat.”

Further, the dietary needs of both puppies and senior dogs are often met through specialized formulas, Pettyan added.  

Brian Ahearn, co-owner of Four Your Paws Only in North Conway, N.H., has noticed an increased consumer call for life stage- and size-specific foods. In response, the store offers a wide variety of selections for puppies, weight control, seniors, and large and small breeds.

“Demand has definitely grown,” he said. “A customer with a large or small dog often wants a size-appropriate food.”

Due to customer requests, Odyssey Pets in Dallas includes a limited selection of puppy, weight-control and large-breed foods in its product mix, said co-owner Sherry Redwine.

“We also have customers asking for really low-fat diets for dogs with pancreatitis,” she said. “There is a canned line I recommend with 1.8 percent fat.”

She has received inquiries about veterinarian-recommended low-protein diets, as well.

“I generally show the customer some grain-based diets that are lower in protein than my higher-quality grain-free diets,” Redwine said.

At Dolly’s Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., owner Anna DePaolo noted that along with puppy foods, she carries some senior and weight-loss formulations. 

“They don’t take up the majority of the mix,” she said. “These products really have to be significant and different for me to carry them.”

Senior foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin fall into that category.

“There is a lot of controversy about adding these supplements into the kibble,” DePaolo said. “I understand that, but when a customer comes back to tell me that they can see an improvement in their senior dog, I pay attention.”  

Product Development

Targeting Demand

As consumers become more discerning of pet food ingredients, the call for specialized diets has intensified, and manufacturers aim to meet these demands.

“Our mission is to create foods for pets that feature the same quality and care as those made at home,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. “It’s important that our stews have an appealing aroma to attract picky eaters or pets that may not be as interested in food.”

At Caru, all processes begin with 100 percent human-grade, limited-ingredient recipes that are made in the USA, Pettyan said. 

“Additionally, we refrain from grain, wheat, gluten, corn and soy ingredients, and absolutely no ingredients from China,” he added.

At My Perfect Pet Food, each blend features 100 percent restaurant-grade meats, whole vegetables and fruit, which are naturally rich in essential nutrients, eliminating the need to “add the synthetic supplements found on many labels,” according to Karen Neola founder of the Poway, Calif.-based company. 

My Perfect Pet Food’s blends are also free from preservatives, gluten and GMOs.

“Each blend is also considered hypoallergenic, since there are few ingredients and none that contain known allergens in dog or cat diets,” Neola said. “Once all of those criteria are met, we develop a formula that will adhere to the specific dietary need in question.” 

Addressing common issues in dogs that could be supported by diet was the first consideration that Petcurean Pet Nutrition took into account as it began formulating its Go! Solutions Meal Mixers line, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for the Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada-based company.

“From there, we spent time researching and developing recipes that are both nutritious and delicious,” Immega said. 

Noting the growth in the meal mixers and toppers category, Petcurean ultimately decided to follow that route, she said. 

“In addition, the Meal Mixers seamlessly complement Go! Solutions, our existing solutions-based line of pet food, and can easily be added to any Go! Solutions kibble and wet food,” Immega said.

New Products

Healthful Considerations

More and more pet food manufacturers are paying attention to dogs’ dietary requirements and creating products catering to specific health issues, as well as those that improve overall health.

“Over the past decade, we have learned so much about how our pets digest food and what ingredients will help them thrive,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla.

With the increasing number of protein varieties available, Caru Pet Food Co. recently added two flavors to its Daily Dish line of dog stews. 

“Our Turkey and Turkey with Wild Salmon flavors are great for dogs with allergies because they contain no chicken, which is a top allergen amongst dogs,” Pettyan said. 

As with other flavors in the Caru lineup, the new additions are GMO, gluten and grain free, made with limited ingredients and offer a savory gravy to serve as hydration for pets that might have difficulty staying hydrated with water alone, Pettyan added.

Petcurean Pet Nutrition’s recently launched Go! Solutions Meal Mixers are created with freeze-dried nutritional and functional ingredients, including single-source primary proteins, and whole fruits and vegetables that can be seen, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 

The line includes four specialized recipes for dogs: Digestive Health Turkey, Hip + Joint Support Pork, Skin + Coat Care Salmon and Weight Control Turkey.  

“From achy joints and tender tummies to itchy skin or that spare tire around the middle, Go! Solutions Meal Mixers add a functional boost of nutrition to aid in supporting many of these common issues,” Immega said. “Dogs love the freeze-dried, whole blueberries and raspberries, and owners love the added nutritional benefits.”

Looking after families with larger breeds or multiple dogs, My Perfect Pet recently introduced bulk packaging for its five most popular blends, said Karen Neola, founder of the Poway, Calif.-based company.

The company included the following formulas in the launch: a Low Phosphorus Lamb Blend, formulated for adult dogs with kidney/renal issues; Boomer’s Chicken and Beef Blend for adult dogs with sensitive stomachs or anal gland issues; and Snuggles Chicken and Rice Blend to support intestinal and urinary tracts. In addition, Hunter’s Turkey and Wild Salmon Blend and Knight’s Beef Blend, popular formulations for adult dogs, will be released in bulk packaging.

Consumer Education

Raising Awareness

When it comes to fostering solid sales of functional and specialty diets, pet retailers and manufacturers agree that information, education and knowledge form the cornerstones to success.

The key to determining the correct recipe for any pet is to ask questions, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

“Talking to a pet parent to discover details such as age, breed and activity level can help a retailer make an informed recommendation to match the pet with the food that will best suit them,” she said.

When assisting customers in a food selection at Dolly’s Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore., the age of the pet is the first consideration, said owner Anna DePaolo.

“I generally go right to that question,” she said. “From there, I might ask if the owner is aware of any food sensitivities that the dog might have.” 

An understanding of a dog’s dietary restrictions, as well as diets that fit within those restrictions, is valuable when speaking with customers, said Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet Food in Poway, Calif.

“Many pet owners do not know where to start when searching for a specialty diet to address their pet’s specific needs,” she said. 

Educated employees can help pet owners find the right foods for their pets. 

“We recommend that our retail partners and their employees participate in our training module to educate themselves about our products and their benefits,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. “Doing so will provide the knowledge needed to make the appropriate recommendations.” 

It is also helpful to designate a section of the store to specialty diets, where retailers can direct consumers to clearly labeled foods that will address their pet’s specific needs, according to industry insiders. 

“If a consumer is looking for products for a puppy, it’s much easier to have an aisle dedicated to puppies, rather than having products placed sporadically throughout the store,” Pettyan said.

However, creating aisles by function might not be ideal for every store. At Odyssey Pets in Dallas, foods are displayed by brand rather than function, said co-owner Sherry Redwine.

Dolly’s Pet Shoppe has a similar setup. 

“Every brand has a section, and I generally put puppy foods to the left, flowing to adult recipes, which definitely take up the biggest window, and then on to senior formulations and weight loss,” DePaolo said. “That’s my general display method.”

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