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Dog Marketplace: The Dog Dish

Posted: July 10, 2013, 11:30 a.m. EDT

By Lizett Bond

"What’s for dinner?” is a question posed each and every night to millions. For pets, the answer to that question long remained predictable; meal after meal, pet owners served up the usual bowl of kibble or canned food. Today, as the availability of varied diets and recipes containing the most healthful ingredients possible grows, both dogs and owners can anticipate the day’s repast with exuberance.

"A lot of people feel that if they want variety in their diets, it makes sense to provide their pets with variety as well,” said Marie Moody, founder and chair of Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee.

Dog Diet
Retailers are answering greater consumer demand for healthful dog foods. Carrie Brenner/i-5 Publishing at Howlistic

Also, because many consumers are empowered with knowledge when it comes to ingredients, sourcing and the manufacturing process, manufacturers must focus on the highest quality, most healthful and most flavorful ingredients available from local, sustainable sources, said Michelle Dixon, health and nutrition specialist for Petcurean in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

Healthy Spot, with three locations in the Los Angeles area, addresses pet owners’ inclinations by offering shoppers a wide variety of healthful, holistic and grain-free kibbles and canned selections, as well as raw alternatives including freeze-dried, air-dried and dehydrated foods not available in big-box stores, said owner Andrew Kim.

Cool Trends
Freeze-dried foods are emerging as a new category that seems to appeal to a much broader customer range, Moody said.

Because it’s so stable and highly palatable, she noted, freeze-dried foods also attract pet owners purchasing frozen or premium pet foods.

"Even as an add-on, it’s a way to increase the average ticket at the register without having to convince customers to completely change over from kibble,” Moody said.

Kim agreed, noting that while freeze-dried foods are an expensive option, customers are taking advantage of these choices, offering the products as toppers, treats or complete diets. Foods available at Healthy Spot include SmallBatch, Primal and Stella & Chewy’s in the freeze-dried category.

"They don’t have the handling concerns of raw foods and for these reasons have become increasingly popular,” he said. "The foods are less heat processed, which preserves more of the nutritional value for the animals consuming them.”

Diet Variety for Health
When it comes to canine food allergies, the culprit might not be the food itself but rather overexposure to that fare, according to manufacturers. In addition, they stated, fillers used in some rations could be inappropriate, or even unhealthful, for a pet. For these reasons, introducing a novel or new protein might reduce symptoms.
However, even with a pet exhibiting no known sensitivities, feeding a variety of protein sources might help ensure that none develop, said Jerel Kwek, CEO and co-founder of Addiction Foods in Kent, Wash. Pets fed a more diverse diet are exposed to a wider range of nutrients, he added.
"We have a raw, dehydrated food that is kangaroo; we also have our ‘made in New Zealand’ salmon and dried venison foods as well,” said Kwek.
In addition, the company lists rabbit, buffalo, turkey, unagi (freshwater eel) and duck in its hypoallergenic menu offerings. Kwek noted that these selections are intended to answer the nutritional needs of dogs that might have developed sensitivities to traditional pet food protein sources.
"Kangaroo meat is very lean, because they are eating foliage and vegetation in the wild as opposed to the diets of farm animals,” he said.
Petcurean’s Go! recipes include high-protein, lower-carb formulas and alternatives developed for pets with food sensitivities and specific dietary needs, said Michelle Dixon, health and nutrition specialist for the Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, company. The foods are available in a variety of protein sources, including duck and trout, fruits and veggies, and whole-grain and grain-free recipes.
Stella and Chewy’s is responding to the call of the wild by launching three new proteins: rabbit, venison and pheasant, said Marie Moody, founder and chair of the Milwaukee company.
"The idea is that these are hypoallergenic proteins; however, anything that is overfed can cause a buildup and create an intolerance,” Moody said.
Keeping that in mind, today’s pets are part of the family circle, and consumers are much more aware of the nutritional requirements of these companions, said Dan Barton, owner of Splash and Dash for Dogs, a grooming system for salons based in St. Petersburg, Fla., and former owner of groom and retail shop Hollywood Premier Pets in Palm Desert, Calif.
"Definitely medical conditions, such as allergies, contribute to this focus,” he added. "There is a lot more awareness and that drives more research.”
Kwek agreed that customer education is important when it comes to food choices that provide optimal health benefits for pets.
"It’s important to choose foods that help build the dog’s health,” Kwek said. —LB

However, Dan Barton, former owner of Hollywood Premier Pets in Palm Desert, Calif., and current owner of Splash and Dash for Dogs, in St. Petersburg, Fla., cautioned that customers should understand the possibility of excessive calorie consumption when using these food options as toppers.

"If a pet owner is feeding a cup of kibble and is topping with dehydrated raw [food] for the benefits, they need to remember to cut back on the kibble,” he said.

For retailers, Barton noted another plus to stocking dehydrated raw diets: shelf space. This alternative allows smaller retailers to provide an increasingly popular option and increase sales.

"A lot of shops don’t have the freezer space available and frozen doesn’t have the shelf life of kibble,” he said. "With dehydrated raw [food], the shelf life is much longer.”

Taking this concept a step further, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. is preparing to launch its Hi-Bio diet this month. A dehydrated food with minimal preservatives, Hi Bio is intended to be fed as a complete diet but also can be fed as a treat. By employing the same process utilized to make jerky, the 20 to 25 percent moisture content increases nutritional extraction, according to the company.

"It is designed to be a 100 percent balanced, complete food, but also can be fed as a topping for traditional kibble,” said Joel Sher, vice president of the Wheeling, Ill., company.

For the most part, because of expense involved in the manufacturing process, innovation is limited in this price range, said Sher, noting that the expenditures come from the actual process as opposed to the raw materials.

"The real innovation comes in trying to bring a food to the consumer at a reasonable price with the convenience of dry food and the benefits of canned and raw,” he said.

Consumers also want super premium foods that address lifestyle, life stage and size. Brands are offering a variety of products with unique ingredients and formulations specific to those demands, said Tom Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.

"Customers are seeking products that can help maintain proper weight,” he said. "They also are demanding more choices, such as grain-free, potato-free and chicken-free.”

To meet these desires, Fromm Family Foods offers its Four-Star line, which features 10 interchangeable dog recipes, including the newest, Polynesian Style Pork and Peas. For size-specific selections or proper weight maintenance, the Fromm Gold line offers choices such as adult, puppy, large breed, small breed and weight management.

"Variety continues to be important,” Nieman said.

The all-natural, grain-free aspects of premium foods have resonated strongly with customers, said Timothy Fabits, vice president of sales for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.

The manufacturer recently released its Redbarn Naturals line of canned dog food, which is made in the USA, "a highly sought after feature” in the premium diets marketplace, Fabits noted.

Up to Speed
Customers today are educating themselves about pet health and nutrition, and taking more responsibility for their pet food choices, said Dixon.

"This informed and often particular customer demands more options and transparency from brands when it comes to their foods and practices,” Neiman said.

Education is critical, Neiman continued, and because many of these brands are sold only through independent retailers, store owners are very aware of the benefits of customer education regarding quality nutrition.

"The more intimate buying experience offered at an independent store provides consumers with a great opportunity to have someone knowledgeable make them aware of products that are best suited for their pet,” he added.

For this reason, Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said that providing accurate, concise and substantiated education is crucial. Further, she added, retailers must be cognizant of customers’ commitment levels and budget constraints.

"They are seeking the best available option within their budget, but without this education, a customer is likelier not to try foods that might require special handling, such as raw, or the additional step, like adding water and mixing with the dehydrated,” said Healthy Spot’s Kim.

With proper education and encouragement, he added, customers are willing to try a product.

"Just because a retailer recommends a food or because it is carried in the shop does not create loyalty or long-term patronage,” Grow said. "You have to provide a good selection of optimum choices and then dial that in with all the other pieces of the puzzle. Education is everything.”

When introducing a new food, trial is what leads to long-term success for retailers, said Fabits.

"Aggressive promotions to help increase the incidence of trial are paramount to the brand’s success,” Fabits noted. "For example, our current promotion to help increase trial is offering pet parents a free five-inch Redbarn Bully Stick with each canned food purchase. [It] has had a swift and impactful response in the initial launch phase.” <HOME>


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