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The Promise of Premium Pet Food

With more and more products entering the pet food space, retailers help consumers discover high-quality diets that stand out from the crowd.


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The humanization of pets is growing worldwide, forcing owners to question everything from ingredients to specific formulas to manufacturing facilities.

Today, more than ever, pet owners regard the sustenance placed in their dog’s bowl with the same consideration they give to food served on their own plates, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, maker of Cloud Star products, in St. Louis.

“Pet owners recognize the defining role of food and nutrition in the overall health and wellness of their pets and are examining labels and sourced ingredients carefully,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.

These savvy pet owners are demanding holistic, natural and better-quality foods for good reason, said Terry Briecic, co-owner of Pet Things in Douglasville, Ga.

“They don’t want to be living at their veterinarian’s office and have decided that pet nutrition and the overall wellness of their animal has to do with what’s in the food they are feeding,” Briecic said.

Medical necessity is an important driver, and dogs that have developed food allergies and/or sensitivities, or medical conditions such as joint issues or diabetes, might require a special limited ingredient diet without any compromise in nutritional quality, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.

It wasn’t long ago that studies showed 90 percent of the consumers purchasing pet foods were unable to tell the difference between the best and worst foods on the market and didn’t consider stool or coat quality or a pet’s length of life, said Robert L. Downey, president of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa.

“Now studies have shown that over 65 percent of dog owners and 50 percent of cat owners consider their pet to be an essential member of the family,” Downey said.

This humanization of pets is growing worldwide, forcing owners to question everything from ingredients to specific formulas to manufacturing facilities, Downey added.

“Gone are the days of customers being misled by large pet food companies claiming to provide quality products,” Pettyan said. “In-tune customers are turning over bags and cans to examine labels.”

 

Progression in Premium Pet Food

The premium pet food category continues to reinvent itself, taking the concept of “premium/specialty” even further, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, maker of Cloud Star products, in St. Louis.

“Today’s premium pet foods are not only represented by the list of ingredients on the label, but where those ingredients are sourced, where the manufacturing takes place, and the care taken during food preparation,” said Joe Perotti, president and owner of Market Fresh Pet Foods in Arlington Heights, Ill.

“It began with natural preservations, moved into ingredients and ingredient sourcing (USA), then ingredient production—i.e., non GMO, antibiotic and hormone free—and now has extended into the concept of minimally processed, meaning diets that are more reflective of the kinds of foods pet owners would make at home if they could,” Hudson said.

Ingredient sourcing has changed the premium dog food category dramatically as commercial-grade companies now are rushing to source local, USA-made and grown ingredients, as opposed to those sourced in China, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.

“Customers are demanding non-China sourced ingredients, and if they don’t recognize, or can’t pronounce or understand an ingredient on a label, they are leaving it on the shelf,” Pettyan said.

“It has become a very confusing space to say the least,” said Ryan Perdue, founder and general manager of Kings Mountain, N.C.-based Family Owned Spot Farms. “Whether it’s ‘premium’ versus ‘superpremium’ or ‘natural’ versus ‘science based,’ the designations have ultimately become marketing handles that make it incredibly difficult for the average consumer to navigate the pet food aisle.”

Further, the “premium” label on a bag of food doesn’t necessarily mean that there is quality, wholesome, organic food in the bag, Pettyan said.

For these reasons, honest packaging labels will differentiate truly premium foods from the crowd, allowing customers to clearly see what they are feeding their pets, he added.

 

Promoting Premium

A well-trained, ready-to-help staff that seeks out customers with a “question on their face” is a remarkably powerful tool for merchandising premium foods, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.

Technology and social media also play a big role in promoting premium foods.

“Online and social media posts about premium products are a great way to generate excitement and educate customers,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.

Shelf-stable products such as freeze-dried and canned foods provide retailers with flexible options for creativity, Schubert noted.

“We believe the best approach is to use tried-and-true merchandising practices, including good, informative signage, endcaps and freestanding displays, free samples and product glorifiers at checkout,” Schubert added.

Displaying premium, shelf-stable products prominently near the front of the store will draw consumer attention, as will creating a special section for foods addressing specific benefits, such as eye or joint health, Pettyan said.

 

Answering the Call for Premium

Manufacturers are responding to the heightened nutritional awareness of pet owners.

Bravo Pet Foods recently entered the canned food market with Canine Café.

“Our approach to the Café line closely mirrors our raw diet products in that they are made with quality muscle meats and poultry and contain no grain, fillers, preservatives, artificial flavors, or meat and poultry meal,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.

In support of a more sustainable future for the pet industry, Annamaet Petfoods has teamed up with Integrative Veterinary Innovations to create Annamaet Sustain. The grain-free food is formulated using certified sustainable line-caught Alaskan cod, and it contains turkey and sweet potatoes, along with microalgae, a sustainable and stable source of omega-3 fatty acids, said Robert L. Downey, president of Annamaet Petfoods in Telford, Pa.

“Sustainability is becoming a major concern for people worldwide, with a record high 71 percent of Americans considering the environment when they shop,” Downey said. 

Offering “home cooking for your pet,” Market Fresh Pet Foods recently relaunched its line of dog food, said Joe Perotti, president and owner of the Arlington Heights, Ill., company.

“We start with human-grade, USA-sourced, USDA ingredients, which are gently cooked and formed by hand into convenient meatballs,” Perotti said. “Our product is quickly frozen to lock in the freshness, with no additives, preservatives, artificial color or flavorings.”

Current offerings include a variety of medley recipes using chicken, beef roast, wild Alaskan salmon and turkey, Perotti said.

Treat maker Family Owned Spot Farms recently entered the food category with its human-grade, dehydrated dog food, which is available in five recipes, said Ryan Perdue, founder and general manager of Kings Mountain, N.C.-based Family Owned Spot Farms.

“Human-grade dehydrated means better nutrition for your dog,” Perdue said. “The dehydration process retains the beneficial nutrients found in raw food but protects against spoiling.”

Offering the convenience of home-cooked meals and appealing, nutritious recipes, Cloud Star’s new Wellmade line is available in a mix of formats and flavors to keep mealtime fresh and exciting, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, maker of Cloud Star, in St. Louis.

The grain-free, minimally processed recipes include a baked kibble, wet complete meals, and vegetable and meat mixes to appeal to the most involved pet owner, Hudson said.

 

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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