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More Owners Feed Their Pets Like Family

From the Pages of Pet Style NewsFor consumers willing to splurge on high-end food and treats, only human-grade quality ingredients will do.
By Cheryl Reeves

To keep the dollars flowing from high-end customers, most specialty retailers agree that selling a variety of superpremium whole-food diets and treats is a must. From raw frozen superfood-packed burgers to real-fruit-topped doggie scone treats, an increasing number of consumers want the same human-grade ingredients in their pets’ foods that they demand in their own meals and snacks. In addition to the desire for food bursting with natural goodness and taste, convenience garners strong appeal in the sector, according to industry insiders.

Feeding Pets Like Family
Eye-catching packages help specialty retailers increase sales.

Feasting on Natural Variety
For humans, eating well means a varied, balanced diet full of high-quality foods, such as fresh organic chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables. Manufacturers report that many of today’s consumers want to give their pets more excitement at mealtime by changing up the menu with a variety of proteins and vegetables.

Tom Nieman, owner of Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis., said his company’s new Four-Star Nutritionals brand is the first gourmet, variety-driven line of food that features interchangeable recipes using the highest inclusions of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.

“People generally grow tired of eating the same thing day in and day out,” Nieman said. “Why should pets be any different?”

This year, the company added two grain-free recipes to the Four-Star family dog food line: Salmon Tunalini and Game Bird Recipe.

Moreover, an increasing number of consumers wish to steer clear of the grocery store when purchasing pet food, retailers reported.

Case in point: When Donna McLaughlin, owner of Uptown Dog Cape Cod in West Falmouth, Mass., opened her store, it was a boutique that did not sell food.

“My customers started pushing me to sell food because they didn’t want to buy it at a grocery store,” she said. “Now 65 percent of my inventory is premium food and treats.”

When deciding what to stock, McLaughlin said she only selects products that offer human-edible ingredients. Her customers look closely at where ingredients are sourced, and USA-made is important, she said.

“For example, a brand I’m adding to my inventory is Evermore Pet Food, a manufacturer based in New York City,” Mc-Laughlin said. “This protein-rich food is gently cooked and sold frozen. It’s also made in a USDA- and FDA-inspected, HACCP-compliant kitchen. Because of all the recent recalls, people really want to make sure ingredients are fresh and safe.”

More consumers also seek specialized premium products, manufacturers said. In response, many new products are formulated to offer key digestive health benefits coupled with grain-free nutrition for pets with sensitivities or allergies to grain.

Feeding Pets Like Family
Easy to prepare and serve meals are on the rise.
“Grain-free diets have been popular for awhile, but now we are delving even further into that category with different recipes for pets of different sizes or with different dietary needs, such as indoor cats,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior marketing communications manager for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.

WellPet has released new Holistic Select formulas: Grain-Free Adult & Puppy Health Salmon and Anchovy & Sardine Meal Recipe for canines, and Grain-Free Indoor Health/Weight Control Turkey, Chicken and Herring Meal Recipe for the feline segment.

Along with fresh, varied and health-benefiting ingredients, customers are concerned with how foods are processed, insiders said. Due to the demand for fresh and local, Morinville, Alberta, Canada-based Champion Pet Foods, maker of Acana and Orijen brands, controls and performs every detail of production. This includes from where and how ingredients are sourced to every cooking, packaging and quality control process, said Peter Muhlenfeld, vice president of sales and marketing.

“Pet lovers want to know where their dog’s and cat’s food comes from and that it’s prepared in the simplest, most natural way,” Muhlenfeld said. “We focus on ingredients that are sustainably raised within our region by people we know and trust. Further, these ingredients are approved fit for human consumption and delivered to our kitchen doors fresh each day.”

Champion’s newest product is the low-carbohydrate and grain-free Acana Regional Grasslands’ line that offers a choice of proteins, including free-range Alberta lamb and wild-caught local fish, he said.

Another consumer trend reportedly on the rise is increased demand for meals that are easy to prepare and to serve.

“What we are seeing in the raw category is growth in general and increasing popularity of the burger format,” said Bette Schubert, founder of Manchester, Conn.-based Bravo Raw Diet.

To meet the demand for more protein variety in a convenient format, Bravo launched two fresh-frozen burgers: duck and lamb.

At Pucci & Catana Luxury Pet Boutique in Palm Beach, Fla., Sojos Complete mixes for dogs and cats are in demand, according to the store’s general manager, Ashley Scouller.

Tasteful Treat Jar Trends
For discerning pet owners who only treat their furry foodies to the very best, a beautiful container to hold and display snacks is de rigueur. Indeed, according to Anna H. Sims, senior designer for Harry Barker in North Charleston, S.C., the fashion forecast in jars for fall is town and country chic.

“As an example, our Toile Tins are new and reflect the demand for an outdoorsy aesthetic,” Sims said. “Overall, the use of natural fibers, patterns mixed with textures and colors paired with neutrals will be popular combinations in pet diningware collections.”

To illustrate, Sims pointed out that Toile Tins offer a fresh twist on the 17th-century pastoral designs made famous in French toile. The containers’ tight-fitting lids keep treats fresh and are FDA-approved, made from recycled steel and dishwasher-safe, she said.

At Uptown Dog Cape Cod in West Falmouth, Mass., store owner Donna McLaughlin agreed with Sims’ trend assessment.

“Along with Harry Barker tins, my other top seller is a brightly hand-painted, rustic-looking treat box by Up Country,” McLaughlin said. “[It’s] filled with delicious, all-natural treats by Polka Dot Bakery.”—CR

“Customers love the fact that they can just add water and have a nutritious, homemade meal ready to serve in a snap,” Scouller said. “There is such a demand for freeze-dried freshness, and this product really delivers.”

Top Treat Favorites
In the treat category, fresh and local whole-food ingredients continue to drive demand, manufacturers said. It’s also a big selling advantage for consumers to be as attracted as their pets to the aroma and flavor of these all-natural tidbits and baked goods.

“All our treats are made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients, the same quality a person would have in their kitchen,” said Debbie Bohlken, president of Claudia’s Canine Cuisine in Maumelle, Ark., where the company’s treats are made in a state-of-the-art facility.

When retailers can tell shoppers where treats are made and what ingredients are used, they experience more selling success, she said. Stocking treats that come in fun, eye-catching packaging also is important, she added.

This year, Claudia’s Canine Cuisine introduced Dogcandy Lookin’ Good Dog Treats in assorted flavors, including creme brulee, yogurt drops, canine mints and real fruit-topped doggie scones, Bohlken said.

“Each assortment comes in an impulse shelf-pack of eight sellable units that can be visually arranged near the register for a great sell-through,” she said.

Wagatha’s Dog Treats are a top-selling brand for Sonia Dunn, owner of Paw-risian Bistro, an online store based in River Vale, N.J.

“Customers love that these treats are made in Vermont using USDA-certified, human-grade ingredients,” said Dunn, adding that Wagatha’s new Little Bites Biscuits for small dogs are very popular.

Customers also love Fruitables, Sojos and The Honest Kitchen brands, Dunn added.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Pet Style News.

Food for Thought: Selling Strategies
Promoting locally grown and produced products is a huge incentive, according to specialty retailers.

“This really is a big point of concern for consumers,” said Donna McLaughlin, owner of Uptown Dog Cape Cod in West Falmouth, Mass. “We talk to customers here, and we tell them all about ingredients. They’re very interested.”

Ashley Scouller, general manager of Pucci & Catana Luxury Pet Boutique in Palm Beach, Fla., concurred. She said more consumers ask about where products are made—and how.

“The more local the better, but they do wish to buy products that are USA-made in general,” Scouller said. “The food recalls really have pushed this to the front of people’s minds.”

Retailers also reported using social media as a selling strategy. McLaughlin said she uses Facebook as a way to connect with customers.

“Facebook is huge for us,” she said. “We have a large mailing list and regularly send out email blasts. We also see the value in investing in radio advertising. This pulls in a lot of tourists looking for souvenirs and gift items, such as a package of locally made treats to bring home to their dogs.”

Nothing beats the power of a yummy sample, however, when a pet and owner enter her store, Scouller said.

“We love offering samples,” she said. “We usually do something popular. Once customers see their pets happily munching away on a delicious treat, they’re hooked.”—CR

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