Whether canned or refrigerated, gourmet-style wet dog food sales are on trending upwards
By Joan Hustace Walker
Educating dog owners on the myriad benefits of wet food is an important step toward gaining repeat customers—and selling more product.
Photo Credit: Rosemary Shelton/Click the Connection
Dry dog foods may still be the most popular form of dog food among pet owners, according to the 2009-2010 APPA National Pet Owners Survey; however, when it comes to purchasing “gourmet” dog foods, or foods considered “upscale,” the same survey shows that canned foods are primarily purchased for this specialty (40 percent of canned foods; 25 percent of dry foods).
Retailers related that they are seeing an upswing in wet dog foods sales, which includes canned foods, as well as refrigerated foods.
“I used to have a lot of people who would buy dry dog foods only,” said Jody Williamson-Mills, manager of Pet Paradise in London, Ontario, Canada. “Now I have not only more people buying [wet] dog foods but they are buying more of it. I have regular customers who have me order a case of food at a time for them.
Cheryl McKee, owner of Dog Stuff in Virginia Beach, Va., echoed Williamson-Mills findings.
“Feeding canned dog foods is definitely a growing trend,” McKee said. “As customers become more educated and move toward more quality foods and more meat in their dogs’ diets, they’re looking for canned foods.”
Wet Foods that Look Like “Food”
Consumers are also looking for foods that look more like something they would eat, rather than something a dog might consume.
“A lot of people are gravitating toward canned foods that look like human foods, with shredded meats, chunks of tuna and vegetables that you can see,” McKee said
Dog foods that look good enough to eat, and that have been selling well for McKee include canned foods from Tiki, Weruva, Evanger’s new Signature series, and Merrick Pet Foods’ new Seasonal foods.
Seasonal, Limited Editions
Merrick Pet Foods’ introduced Seasonals in Summer 2009, said Ken Wilks, director of sales and marketing for Merrick Pet Care, Inc.
“It’s the introduction of a new concept,” Wilks said, comparing the seasonal introduction of four new limited edition foods every three months (spring, summer, fall and winter) to the successful seasonal introductions of various limited edition, seasonal pilsners and lagers by breweries. “The foods have been very well received. It’s been a huge boost to our sales,” Wilks added, noting that the most successful foods are added to Merrick’s regular lineup.
For fall 2010, Wilks said Merrick is offering the following foods: “Autumn Leaf’t Overs”; “Gameday Tailgate”; “Homecoming Holiday”; and “Little Italy.” The two previous Seasonals foods that are now part of the regular lineup are: “Burger Pie & Sweetie Fries” (summer 2009) and “Susie’s Shepherd Pie” (winter 2009/10).
“We’re delivering a five-star dining experience for the pet and the pet owner,” Wilks said.
Merrick Pet Care’s new introduction “Seasonals” has been flying off the shelves, McKee confirmed.
“You open the can up and it looks terrific, smells good, and I can tell you from personal experience that some of them taste good,” McKee relates with a laugh.
WellPet Adds New Stews, Canned Foods
In April 2010, WellPet launched its newest canned food for dogs, Wellness Stews, according to WellPet product information. Wellness Stews comes in six, “slow-cooked classics”: Turkey & Duck Stew; Chicken Stew; Beef Stew; Lamb & Beef Stew; Turkey Stew; and Venison & Salmon Stew and are described by WellPet as for those “who indulge in chunks and gravy meals exclusively, as a perfect mixer or topper to dry kibble, or even as a special treat.”
Of the new introductions, three of the Wellness stews are grain-free, a trend that Julia Hall, owner of Incredipet in Lexington, Ky., has observed.
“People are looking for foods with more meat and no grains, no fillers and no by-products,” she said. “I think people are heading that way [with wet foods].”
In August 2010, WellPet expanded its Eagle Pack lineup of dry dog foods with four new wet foods that come in beef, lamb, turkey and chicken flavors, according to product information.
“The Eagle Pack canned line now gives dog owners even more choice for the pets, a natural extension of the dry line,” said Mark Shuster, vice president of marketing for WellPet.
Almo Nature Adds to Expanding Line
European-based Almo Nature recently introduced four new recipes to its canned food line of dog foods: Natural Chicken Fillet Recipe; Natural Skipjack Tuna Recipe; Natural Salmon Recipe; and Natural Tuna Recipe. Almo Nature’s new introductions include the same cuts of meat and fish that are used for human consumption, as well as beef and veal that are free range and hormone and antibiotic free, according to Almo Nature product information. Additionally, Almo Nature reported that it released new recipes for Natural Veal and Natural Beef canned foods.
“Almo Nature operates in Germany, Switzerland, France, Canada and Great Britain and in Eastern and Northern Europe through exclusive importers,” said Ludovica Diale, public relations director for Almo Nature in Genova, Italy.
Diale said that though Almo Nature does sell dry dog food, too, “generally speaking, wet dog food is by far the most popular product in our dog food range. Dog owners who are choosing to go ‘natural’ would rather feed wet, human-grade food than dry [dog] foods.”
In Canada, Williamson-Mills said the new entries from Almo Nature are perhaps her bestsellers.
“They’re also the newest,” she said. “We’ve only been selling it for a couple of months. The main ingredients are meat and the foods are packed in water.”
Fresh Pet Intros “Vital”
Fresh Pet, which has offered its Deli Fresh brand of refrigerated, fresh dog foods in pet food stores since 2006, recently launched a new wet dog food, Vital, in the first quarter of 2010, according to Kathy Peloso-Passucci, marketing for Fresh Pet.
“Vital is a grain-free, fresh food with meat as its first ingredient, she said. “Vital is 80 percent meat.“
Three of the Vital varieties, Bison and Beef, Salmon and Ocean White Fish, and Turkey, include dark berries, pomegranate and leafy greens for antioxidants, said Peloso-Passucci; however, the fourth variety, is a “meat only” multi-protein food containing chicken, beef, salmon and egg.
“Refrigerated fresh foods are a whole new category of wet foods and this is the wave of the future—a revolution in feeding [dogs],” she said.
Peloso-Passucci pointed out that according to 2007 report by Packaged Facts, fresh pet food sales (refrigerated and frozen) in North America were approximately $169 million in 2007, reflecting a 38 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the 2003-2007 period. With this trend expected to continue through 2012, Packaged Facts’ report estimated that the CAGR for the 2007-2012 period to be 23 percent, bringing sales to $473 million for fresh pet food sales.
Selling Benefits, Sampling
Premium wet dog foods typically are more expensive to feed than dry foods, so getting pet owners to try wet dog foods can be difficult.
“A lot of people are used to buying dry foods only,” Williamson-Mill said.
However, among dog owners, she finds smaller breed dog owners are more likely to consider feeding wet foods as the primary diet, and dog owners of all sizes are open to buying wet foods for puppies, as an enticement for an older dog to eat and to mix with kibble.
McKee said that once owners realize the benefits of the wet foods, it is often easier to introduce them to wet food diets.
“We sell more canned foods than anyone else in this area and it’s because we tell our customers about the benefits of these foods,” she said. “As customers become more educated about quality foods and as they move toward foods with more meat, they see the benefits of canned foods. The only other option to get more meat in a dog’s diet is a raw diet, and most veterinarians will recommend canned foods over raw [frozen] foods.”
Still have reluctant customers? Hall recommended opening the product and offering samples.
“If people are unfamiliar with a food, the best way to introduce them to the food is through sampling,” Hall said.
With Fresh Pet’s refrigerated foods, for example, Hall found her customers reluctant to purchase a roll of the food, so she offers samples in her store and encourages customers to have their dogs try the food.
“We’re sampling it to everybody,” Hall said, and this has increased awareness of the new food, and has increased sales, too. <HOME>
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