Dog Marketplace: Fresh Food Is Served
Nutrition-savvy dog owners look for raw and freeze-dried foods made from high-quality, protein-rich ingredients.
By Stacy N. Hackett
The dog food selection at Whitie’s Pets in Fresno, Calif., fills the shelves of three long rows, three freezers and two islands. And that doesn’t include everything. A good portion of those food offerings are freeze-dried and frozen raw foods, from manufacturers such as Mary’s Free Range Pet Food, Primal Pet Foods, Nature’s Variety and Stella & Chewy’s.
“More and more people are looking for optimal ways to feed their dogs and cats,” said Susie Hooper, a manufacturer’s representative for Milwaukee-based Stella & Chewy’s. “Any raw food—frozen or freeze dried—can help an owner make that switch.”
More dog owners seem to be making it, a trend noted by both manufacturers and retailers.
“Raw has been very fast growing in the industry, as people have become more educated on the healthy pet movement,” said Brad Kriser, founder and CEO of Kriser’s, a chain with stores in California, Colorado, Illinois and Texas. “[Raw diets] enable maximum food/nutrient utilization by the pet and are easily digestible with less waste.”
One of the company’s goals is to provide customers with an assortment of protein sources, from the more common to the exotic.
“Having a wide selection of products with different protein and nutrient contents is important for our customers to be able to find what is right for their pets,” Kriser said.
Retailers report that freeze-dried and frozen raw foods are gaining traction with consumers, who are paying closer attention to their pets’ health. Sojos
Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., also stocks a large variety of raw foods from several manufacturers.
Store owner Lorin Grow said she looks for a range of proteins and feeding options to meet her customers’ needs.
“We are a nutrition-centric store,” she said. “Biologically correct feeding, without a doubt, is the absolute best way to feed the creature that is canine or feline.”
Convenience and Variety
Manufacturers recognize retailers’ and customers’ demands for diverse choices, and they continue to introduce solutions to meet varied needs.
“The emerging trends in the raw food category are two-fold: convenience and novel protein sources,” said Matt Koss, president and founder of San Francisco-based Primal Pet Foods.
To meet the demand for convenience, Primal offers the Pronto line, featuring kibblelike, scoopable raw food formulas.
Similarly, Bravo! in Manchester, Conn., recently introduced the Bravo! Homestyle Complete line of freeze-dried formulas to make raw feeding more convenient for dog owners.
“Freeze drying was a natural fit, as the process does not degrade essential proteins, fatty acids or enzymes,” said Bette Schubert, Bravo!’s co-founder and senior vice president of sales.
“All the ingredients’ original nutritive value is retained in the most bio-available form,” Schubert added.
Such products are well received by retailers and, in turn, customers.
“I have seen some very exciting innovations [in the dog food category], such as Bravo!’s new freeze dried or Vital Essentials’ freeze dried,” said Terri Grow, president and founder of Pet-Sage in Alexandria, Va. “Completely different approaches, yet each addressing species’ specific needs and client convenience with quality ingredients and processing,” Grow added.
For owners transitioning their pets to a raw diet, Stella & Chewy’s recently released Meal Mixers, which are available in four protein formulas and three sizes, said Lee Hessenthaler, director of marketing.
“As learned during consumer research among current users of premium kibble brands, almost two-thirds of these dog owners engage in some type of mixing or ‘topping’ when feeding their dogs,” Hessenthaler said. “Meal Mixers allow freezedried raw food to be quickly added to any meal.”
On the protein side, most manufacturers offer a range of meats. Formulas include traditional protein sources as well as more exotic options, such as duck, venison, rabbit, bison and fish, among others.
This wide range of protein choices works well for dogs with allergy issues, manufacturers reported.
“It is easy for consumers to find one that works best for their pets,” Schubert said.
Continued Market Growth
No matter the protein, consumers want to know its exact origin.
“People are looking for farm-to-table choices; that’s why we say Raw Bistro is ‘farm-tobowl,’” said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Cannon Falls, Minn.-based Raw Bistro Pet Fare. “We source as much as we can locally. Our farmers are close to us, and we know them personally.”
To help retailers encourage customers to consider switching to a raw diet, Raw Bistro offers two-ounce frozen raw entrée samples, Magnuson said. Stella & Chewy’s provides samples of its Meal Mixers, and Sojos in Minneapolis also offers free samples.
“When it comes to raw foods, the proof is in the pudding,” said Maggie Johnson, co-owner of Sojos. “The results speak for themselves.”
Those results continue to stimulate growth in the raw food segment and attract attention from increasingly savvy customers.
“Driving the increased interest in raw pet food is the increased understanding that proper nutrition—feeding pets the way nature intended—produces the best results
for health and wellness,” said Eric Emmenegger, Instinct senior brand manager at Nature’s Variety in St. Louis. “Whether through raw frozen bites that can be served freezer to bowl without tempering or developing more shelf-stable freeze-dried products, it’s easier than ever to find the right raw solution for your dog.”
Fresh Teaching Methods
Nothing compares to personal interaction with customers, but when it comes to raw and freeze-dried foods, pet owners are willing to do their homework.
“We are big on having conversations with our clients, but raw is an area where takeaway brochures matter,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. “We know our clients take in everything we tell them and still go home and review all the product brochures.”
Recognizing pet owners’ desire to learn as much as possible about their options, manufacturers offer a range of printed materials.
“We have several initiatives in place that help in our mission to educate our customers and the retailers who sell our products,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo! in Manchester, Conn.
One such item is “Bravo Beginnings,” an “A to Z guide for feeding raw to both cats and dogs.”
Nature’s Variety in St. Louis also provides printed material to support its Instinct Raw foods.
“The freezer books and Instinct Raw brochures help retailers and consumers understand the benefits of raw nutrition,” said Eric Emmenegger, Instinct senior brand manager for Nature’s Variety.
Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee and Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco also offer brochures for customers to review at their leisure. As Matt Koss, Primal’s president and founder, said, “When a consumer is well-informed about the nutritional benefits of feeding raw, they can feel more comfortable in their decision to try an alternative feeding program.”—SNH