Increasing attention to the connection between pet health and quality foods is leading more dog owners to choose a raw diet. As a direct result, more pet specialty retailers are focusing on the category.
“The trends in raw diets are driven by premiumization and pet health awareness,” said Joey Weichmann, national sales manager for Green Bay, Wis.-based Carnivore Meat Co., the maker of Vital Essentials food. “Millennial shoppers are demanding pet foods similar in quality to what they demand for their own food. Pet parents are making the switch to raw diets because retailers are becoming intensely consumer focused and driven to help deliver the best diet possible for pets.”
Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World in Natick, Mass., said that there’s been a big uptick in raw sales at his store. In response, they’ve invested heavily in the category with the introduction of eight glass-door freezers. He said the interest has come from increased awareness about pet health.
“We’re seeing a lot more customers who want to switch to a more natural diet to help solve some of the health issues their dog may be experiencing,” Lavallee said. “People are making the connection between their own diet and their health, and they’re now applying that knowledge to the care of their pet.”
Lindsay Meyers, BS, CVT, product development and veterinary channel manager for Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer based in Fairfield, Calif., agreed that the interest in raw diets stems from more interest in pets’ health. She said that dog owners are looking for foods that are “fresh” and “minimally processed.”
“Adding to that natural trend is the more recent issue of canine dilated cardiomyopathy and its, so far unproven, link to a grain-free diet,” Meyers continued. “If you’re a pet parent that is dealing with food allergies and a move to grain-free kibble improved your pet’s health, it is scary and frustrating to change it. Raw foods offer an alternative that is naturally grain free but does not include the legume, lentil or starch ingredients that replaced grains in those products. With all of the protein in raw foods coming from meat, the taurine and other essential amino acids are abundant and easily digestible, without the perceived allergy-causing grains.”
Recent Raw Introductions
There are a couple of new options available in the raw dog food category.
Primal Pet Foods, based in Fairfield, Calif., has introduced Raw Toppers, frozen, pourable, meat-first toppers that are convenient like freeze-dried toppers but with less cost per calorie and more moisture, said Lindsay Meyers, BS, CVT, product development and veterinary channel manager for the company.
“We reimagined our mix and grind products that were packaged in the traditional chub format. They were popular with raw feeders many years ago for bulk buying and cost savings, but certainly not the most convenient way to feed,” Meyers said. “We took those recipes and pressed them into the small-shape pieces of our Pronto product and branded them to be more approachable for new-to-raw customers as a topper for more processed foods.”
In addition, Green Bay, Wis.-based Carnivore Meat Co., the maker of Vital Essentials food, has introduced Fusion dinner patties, a frozen raw, affordable pet food line, according to national sales manager Joey Weichmann.
“The Fusion line combines locally sourced meat with organic fruits and vegetables. We’ve created two varieties, Beef or Chicken, and added 10 percent fruits and vegetables including apple, squash, carrot, blueberry and broccoli,” Weichmann said. “As with all Vital Essentials products, our Fusion dinner patties follow the Alpha Prey Model Diet, using only USA single-sourced whole meats and vital organs which are flash frozen, allowing the raw patties to be conveniently stored in the freezer before thawing and serving to pets. They also come in a convenient six-pound resealable bag, so all pet parents have to do is take the desired number of patties out of the bag and thaw in the refrigerator before feeding. It’s convenient, cost effective, healthy and dogs absolutely love the taste.”
“Pet parents are making the switch to raw diets because retailers are becoming intensely consumer focused and driven to help deliver the best diet possible for pets.”—Joey Weichmann of Carnivore Meat Co.
Variety Is Key
Having raw options in a variety of formats can help support dog owners who are thinking about making a switch.
According to Lindsay Meyers, BS, CVT, product development and veterinary channel manager for Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer based in Fairfield, Calif., the company’s fastest-growing format is anything that can be used as a topper or an add-on product, because this makes it really easy for pet owners to add raw to an existing diet.
Jackie Starker, owner of Amelie’s Bark Shop, a pet store in Philadelphia, also said that raw toppers are popular. She said that the toppers are often viewed as an “introduction.”
“It can be intimidating to go to full patty frozen raw, so I think that retailers need to have easy and accessible entryways into feeding raw,” Starker said.
Joey Weichmann, national sales manager for Green Bay, Wis.-based Carnivore Meat Co., the maker of Vital Essentials food, said that the company’s VE Raw Bar is a great way to introduce pet owners to the category. The display has entry product options for pet owners exploring raw feeding but who want to try a low-risk option for their pets in terms of cost and quantity.
“VE Raw Bar has 12 different freeze-dried chews, which not only offer health benefits, but are also unique to the market, and consumers find the Raw Bar to be a fun way to treat their pets,” he said. “This introductory product is a great way to start the raw diet conversation with pet parents and provide them with a variety of raw freeze-dried choices so they can experience the benefits of raw feeding firsthand. The VE Raw Bar can be used as a segue to introduce customers to other products in the raw category including freeze-dried foods and treats or the frozen category.”
A Pet-Friendly Policy
Pet specialty retailers have reported that customers are often stressed and reluctant about switching their pet over to raw. Therefore, being a trusted resource and guiding dog owners in this process can help sales in the category.
Joey Weichmann, national sales manager for Green Bay, Wis.-based Carnivore Meat Co., the maker of Vital Essentials food, said that retailers can help make the transition easier for customers by relating a raw diet to the diet that consumers would purchase for themselves. Pet owners can relate to wanting to have full meals and snacks for their pets that mirror the dietary choices they personally make.
“It’s like the difference between shopping the outer ring of the grocery store versus the inner ring,” he said. “The outer ring of the grocery store is similar to a raw diet, which has an emphasis on fresh meats and organic fruits and vegetables. The inner ring of the grocery store is similar to a commercial kibble diet and is filled with processed junk foods. If you want to make healthy choices for your own diet, why wouldn’t you make the same choices for your pet’s diet?”
Of course, pet owners don’t have to go “all in,” all at once. Lindsay Meyers, BS, CVT, product development and veterinary channel manager for Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer based in Fairfield, Calif., said that it is easier and more approachable to start by making a small addition of frozen fresh, raw or freeze-dried food to the dog’s dish.
“Choose something that makes sense for the individual pet and the owner’s lifestyle and budget, and go from there,” Meyers suggested. “Recommend a splash of goat’s milk or bone broth on kibble meals for a picky pup. ... Once a pet parent sees the difference in health and the improvement in palatability of meals for their pet, they will never go back to 100 percent processed food.
“Small changes go a long way,” she added.
Lindsey Testerman, general manager of Lizzi & Rocco’s Natural Pet Market, which has stores in Columbia, Mo., added that pet owners tend to think feeding raw diets is difficult to manage. One of the ways that the store is demonstrating the ease of feeding raw is through videos posted on social media.
“We’ll record a video of the process of feeding raw at home, and a lot of customers will come in and say, ‘Wow, I really thought there was a lot more to it than that,’” Testerman said. “We can tell them in the store that it’s easy, but when they actually see a video like that, they realize it’s much less work than they may have imagined.”