Fresh, balanced superfood diets that are rich in essential nutrients and promote rapid digestion attract more consumers.
By Cheryl Reeves
While humans may indulge in a side of fries with their burgers, dogs are getting only the best extras added to their lean, protein-packed patties: organic carrots, beets, blueberries, flaxseed, thyme and oregano, to name just a few powerhouse ingredients.
Indeed, as new superpremium diets take their place in the pet food spotlight, retailers can gobble up more sales by guiding customers through the process of choosing brands, ingredients and formulas for everything from burgers to stews to freeze-dried nuggets. Furthermore, with so many manufacturers expanding brand lines to include new flavors and formulas, retailers who keep up could make even more money.
Food made with human-grade ingredients is a hit with many pet owners.
Pet owner demand continues to grow for raw diets that deliver proteins, vegetables, fruits and omega-3 fatty acid in the most convenient of formats, said Bette Schubert, found of Bravo Raw Diet in Manchester, Conn.
“We’re seeing growth in the raw category in general and an increasing popularity of the burger format,” noted Schubert, whose company recently launched two new burger flavors: duck and lamb.
“We think much of this can be attributed to the new raw feeders who are coming into the category daily,” she added. “The burger provides these pet owners with a convenient option for feeding and portion control.”
The entire product line at My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif., is based on the concept of superfood preparation, according to co-founder Karen Scoggins. The company uses only fresh, whole, human-grade food and picks only those ingredients that promote ultraefficient digestion, she said.
For example, the new Knight’s Blend formula offers a grain-free beef round and vegetable mix that includes spinach, green beans, yams and cranberries.
“When your customers see the difference in their pet—everything from no more upset stomachs, healthier weight, shinier coat, less itching and scratching, fresher breath—they will become extremely loyal,” Scoggins said. “This is the superfood advantage.”
Shoppers at Best Pet RX, a pet pharmacy and store in New York City, have a hunger for bison.
“This particular protein source is very low fat,” said Trish Welke, the store’s manager. “Overall, more people are becoming aware that there is an alternative to low-end products filled with artificial preservatives and fillers. The new, higher-quality diets also help cut down on expensive trips to the vet due to allergies and other diet-related issues.”
Welke reported huge demand for Natural Balance food, especially the bison and venison formulas that include a selection of ingredients such as sweet potato, pumpkin and legumes.
In line with the demand for protein variety, Natural Balance recently launched a duck and sweet potato formula, said Heather Govea, the Pacoima, Calif., company’s senior vice president of independent sales and corporate marketing.
“Another brand that has been flying out of the freezer is Bravo’s fresh frozen burgers,” Welke said. “People just love the quality, variety and convenience this product represents.”
At Novato Horse & Pet Supply in Novato, Calif., store manager Adan Franco has seen growing demand for superfoods in the feline segment.
“Taste of the Wild is a big seller for cats in both its dry and wet formulas,” he said. “Blue Buffalo’s Freedom brand is another one that’s picking up sales.”
Primal Pet Foods’ freeze-dried nuggets for cats earned its place on the shelf at Best Pet RX, Welke reported.
Other new products created for cats include Zero/G Sardine and Zero/G Turkey and Chicken formulas manufactured by Darford International of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada. Another, from Halo, Purely for Pets of Tampa, Fla., is Spot’s Stew Dry Cat Grain Free Hearty Chicken Recipe.
Although Chelsea Garcia, a sales associate at Wag’n Tails in Coronado, Calif., still sells a lot of premium kibble, customers are rapidly switching to fresh, whole foods in general—from wet or dry formulas to frozen burgers and deli-style rolls, she noted.
As retailers guide customers through the process of choosing brands, ingredients and formulas, they gain loyalty and sales.
What’s driving her customers, she said, is the combination of convenience and a desire for human-grade ingredients without byproducts. Moreover, her customers have grown leery because of food recalls and are seeking higher quality choices.
“But the biggest reason is because people see the proof in their pet’s health, behavior and appearance,” Garcia observed. “Within a mere couple of weeks after introducing a superfood diet, the results show: more energy, a shiny coat, the vanishing of allergy symptoms.”
Many allergies are linked to a dog’s inability to properly digest highly processed proteins, several manufacturers reported.
“After switching to lightly processed protein, the allergic reaction goes away,” Scoggins, of My Perfect Pet, said. “This is the reason why many consumers think their pet is allergic to certain proteins when in reality they may only be allergic to the processing.”
Stewart Raw Naturals, a new frozen line from MiracleCorp in Dayton, Ohio, offers a choice of protein, each mixed with fresh fruits and vegetables, according to marketing director Sharon Burden. The foods include inulin, a plant-based binding agent that enhances calcium absorption while promoting the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria, she added.
Processed for Purity
Beyond ingredients, how a food is processed matters to pet owners, retailers asserted.
“Our raw frozen diets are cold-processed pasteurized using high-pressure processing (HPP),” Burden said. “HPP destroys microorganisms that cause spoilage and eliminates the need for chemical preservatives. This process also maintains the nutritional value of food in its purest form.”
Alex Thompson, brand manager for Wenaewe Pet Products in Lancaster, Pa., described his company’s processing method as “total vertical integration.”
“Wenaewe is a food that is made with human-grade, USDA-certified organic ingredients that are grown by Erro Co. in Dolores, Uruguay,” Thompson said. “This is the same company that owns and produces Wenaewe.”
What are the trends you have seen in highly nutritious treats, and are consumers mixing or matching brands?
“Some customers prefer matching treats to the dog’s superfood diet brand while others like to give their pet more variety.”
—Heather Govea, senior vice president of independent sales and corporate marketing at Natural Balance Pet Foods in Pacoima, Calif.
“Every bite matters. Pet owners love indulging their pets and want the same quality and safety in the treats as the regular diet. Family members are more likely to handle the treats, making food quality and safety growing factors in their treat selection.”
—Karen Scoggins, co-founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.
“Some mix, some match. However, the Innova Grain-free HealthBar baked dog treats are very popular among customers who also feed their dogs an Innova main diet.”
—Adan Franco, store manager at Novato Horse & Pet Supply in Novato, Calif.
“Customers love the Natural Balance line of L.I.T. treats. Another top seller is Nature’s Variety SweetSpot treats. Tying together a brand’s food and its treat line is not a given. What people want most is a healthy, natural variety of flavors and textures that their pet enjoys.”
—Trish Welke, store manager at Best Pet RX in New York City
As for total vertical integration, Erro produces the seeds, owns and harvests the fields, stores the ingredients, produces the dry dog food in a state-of-the-art plant, and ships the product in company trucks, Thompson stated. By the time the food arrives at the company’s U.S. warehouse, it has been touched only by Erro.
Along with the quality of ingredients and sophisticated processing, a big advantage to working with superfood manufacturers, Best Pet RX’s Welke said, is the level of transparency and communication the companies bring to the food industry’s table.
“Not only do these manufacturers talk to us retailers at least once a quarter, they also communicate among themselves in a very open and sharing way,” she said. “The belief is that if everyone works together cohesively, diets will evolve, more people will be educated and a greater number of pets will benefit.”
Thompson often rides along with his distributor to visit stores so he can help educate and train their employees.
“Our newest addition to the Wenaewe line is the Adult formula,” he added. “I like to go around spreading the mantra of feeding a dog like a wolf: really high protein and back to natural.”
Independent retailers are the cornerstone for the proliferation of superfoods, Scoggins pointed out.
“Sampling almost always has customers coming back to buy and use the products,” she said. “Visible results in their pets early on make superfood customers amazingly loyal.”
Thompson offers retailers a larger sample size: a 3-pound bag that lasts about a week.
“We also offer a coupon with the sample to use for the next bag,” he added.
MiracleCorp offers a Stewart Raw Naturals freezer program that comes with a video to educate customers and help sell product.
“While in-store demonstrations are helpful for consumers to have their own questions and concerns addressed, store associate training is important so they understand the features and benefits of this new and growing raw diet category,” noted Burden.
Once people read Bravo’s informational pamphlet, they are highly motivated to switch to the brand,” Best Pet RX’s Welke said.
“I see it happen every day: A great pamphlet that tells a detailed story with strong graphics is a powerful selling tool,” she reported.
Franco reported great success in introducing new customers to superfood diets at Novato Horse & Pet Supply by offering buy one, get one free deals. He added that whenever a brand’s sales representative pops in to stick a discount coupon on packages, sales soon increase.
Most important, superfood manufacturers advised, retailers should stock only quality brands that the seller and consumer can trust.
“Choose responsive vendors that have a reputation for quality and a focus on consumer education,” My Perfect Pet’s Scoggins advised. “These vendors work hard to drive integrity into the pet food industry. The result will be a better informed customer who will be attracted to a store with an innovative selection of products that stand above the pack. This is how to survive, thrive and succeed in the superfood sector.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser.
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