An Expanding Landscape

Roundtable participants:

Janice Yamamoto, director of marketing for Next Gen Pet in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Warren Hill, chief commercial officer of Midwestern Pet Foods in Evansville, Ind.

John Hart, president of marketing for Isle of Dogs in Milwaukee

James Brandly, marketing coordinator for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo.

Stephanie Boone, CEO of Wondercide Natural Products in Austin, Texas

Joe Wallington, president of Jones Naturals in Rockford, Ill.

Pet Product News: How would you characterize the state of the natural segment in your product categories?

Joe Wallington: The whole millennial piece is driving a lot of the growth, and more and more people are looking to feed their pets what they feed themselves. And a lot of these folks are more on the healthy side. Some of the exotic meats are becoming popular, and organic continues to grow. Millennials will spend a lot of money on their pets, because they are waiting until later to get married and have kids, so their pets are kind of like their kids. It’s helping drive the category pretty dramatically. 

Janice Yamamoto: I believe environmentally friendly and safe litter solutions will be the future in our category, and we are excited to see sales and distribution of natural cat litter grow year after year.

Warren Hill: The natural pet food segments continue to be robust. Otherwise, in many respects, the market is stale.

John Hart: Natural products are expected and demanded in our product sector. Consumers want clear transparency, from pasture and farm to bowl. Clean, minimally processed ingredients are highly desirable and sought after by pet parents in our segment; they do a lot of research on nutrition sources for their pet. 

Stephanie Boone: There are many new players in natural in every category. Traditional companies are going natural, too. Eight years ago, there were two brands in natural flea and tick, and today there are 30-plus. However, there doesn’t appear to be much innovating, just copy cat or private label. 

James Brandly: We were green before "green" was a thing. All our products contain good, naturally sourced, wholesome ingredients. We tap in to the best ingredients nature has to offer when creating products. TropiClean started with our natural shampoo and, since then, has more than eight quality product lines with the focus on natural, healthy products.

PPN: What’s the biggest buzz in the natural category? What are people talking about? 

Yamamoto: As consumers become more aware of the products they bring into their homes and what those products are made from, they are looking to retailers to provide more natural litter options to fit their needs as well as the needs of their pets. Even conventional cat litter companies are hearing pet owners’ requests for renewable and sustainable cat litter. Next Gen’s goal has always been to provide an eco-conscious litter, offering natural solutions to litterbox issues. 

Hill: New and novel proteins continue to attract attention. Additionally, natural treats continue to enjoy strong growth.

Hart: Alternative-format foods, such as air dried, jerky style, freeze dried, dehydrated and frozen, are creating the biggest buzz. Retailers and consumers realize that there are better ways of providing nutrition to pets, and they want to know more about those alternative options.

Boone: CBD is what everyone is talking about and getting into, but the quality brands are very hard to find. 

Brandly: Within each product line, key ingredients create the biggest buzz. Pet parents seek out products that are healthy and contain natural ingredients that they know and understand. For example, our TropiClean Shampoo highlights the incredible coconut and ingredients that we know help soothe, heal and replenish, like aloe and oatmeal.

PPN: What are the latest product trends in your category?

Yamamoto: Pet owners are willing to spend more money on cat litter than they have historically, and I think that has to do with the quality and value of the newer litters on the market. Next Gen’s products, for example, are designed with a purpose. We use ingredients like green tea or hinoki cypress as a natural scent for the litter, and to help control litterbox odor by suppressing bacteria growth. 

Hill: Regionally sourced ingredients. Single-animal-origin-protein formulas. Innovative and sustainable packaging that is BPA free. Potato-free formulas.

Hart: In addition to alternative format foods, trends like high meat content (90-plus percent), inclusion of functional wellness supplements and transparent sourcing are some of the hottest trends.

Brandly: Easy-to-use products that fit the lifestyle of both pets and their people. TropiClean innovates new ways of addressing grooming, oral care and supplements by providing products that range in application. For example, we offer our TropiClean waterless shampoo, No-brushing Solutions in oral care and our easy-to-use Life by TropiClean Supplements that you simply apply as a food topper. 

Wallington: Whether it’s rosemary or cinnamon, there are a lot of additional spices or natural ingredients being added, and more products are claiming to be healthier.

PPN: What consumer trends are driving sales?

Yamamoto: One of the biggest trends I see across a variety of industries is integrity. Customers want to know that their money is going toward products and companies that share their interests and values. Customers are looking for products with limited ingredients, simplicity in packaging, and transparency in operations and manufacturing.

Hill: Sustainability. E-commerce. GMO free. We also see increasing consumer interest in potato-free formulas. Consumers increasingly seek demonstrated product safety, no recalls. Furthermore, many consumers seek pet food prepared in-house, in company-operated kitchens, as opposed to private labeling.

Hart: Humanization of pets continues to propel growth in natural foods and treats. Consumers are also looking for transparency in sourcing and manufacturing practices. Sustainably sourced and raised meats as well as transparent farming are all driving sales. We also see an increased interest in functional foods and supplements.

Wallington: Pet ownership continues to rise for people of all ages. Millennials continue to experience rapid growth of pet ownership, and there continues to be a lot of buzz in the marketplace about seniors, and the positive benefit and impact of pet ownership.

Boone: The trend to treat your pet like family is what we see driving sales in the natural category. Only wanting the absolute best products and top-quality, human-grade ingredients for your pet is what the consumer is looking for, which, as a company, is the standard we hold with every product we have and develop.

Brandly: Responsible pet parents. Pet parents won’t just give their pets any product. They expect manufacturers and retailers to create and offer healthy, effective products.

PPN: Which segments of natural are thriving?  

Hill: The grain-free pet food segment continues to expand. While still largely niche, the raw, freeze-dried, dehydrated and home-cooked market segments continue to show gains.

Hart: All of the alternative format foods are experiencing the strongest gains. Well-informed consumers seem to be tired of traditional-format foods as they research nutrition options for their pets.

Consumers also want true ancestral diets, meaning simple and high-meat-content food and treats. Many pet parents are taking grain free a step further and avoiding products that substitute potatoes, lentils or other starches for grain.

Brandly: We recently introduced our Natural Flea & Tick products and solutions to the market, and they’ve taken off in popularity. The gentle but extremely effective formula contains a blend of natural oils that work together to kill fleas and ticks by contact. We offer complete solutions for the pet, home and yard.

PPN: What are some of your latest offerings?

Yamamoto: This year, we will debut a larger bag of our fan favorite, Green Tea Fresh. We released a larger bag of Cypress Fresh earlier this year, and people liked it so much we decided to include a larger bag of Green Tea Fresh as well. Both bags are 21 liters and should last a cat six to eight weeks. Green Tea Fresh combines the natural powers of green tea and wood to fight odor effectively and naturally. 

Hill: We recently introduced the all-new Earthborn Holistic Venture line consisting of six limited-ingredient diets for dogs. Produced in Midwestern Pet Foods’ kitchens, Earthborn Holistic Venture recipes are grain free and potato free with regionally sourced single-animal-origin proteins such as Alaska pollock from the Bering Sea, squid from the Pacific coast of Peru, rabbit and duck from France, and pork and turkey meal from America’s Midwest.

Hart: Isle of Dogs offers a new line of proprietary products including Nourish 90% real meat and grain-free, gently air-dried dog and cat food in Grass-Fed Beef, Pasture-Raised Lamb and Venison, Free-Range Chicken and Free-Range Chicken and Salmon; Nourish 90% real meat and grain-free jerky bites in Grass-Fed Beef and Pasture-Raised Lamb; Nourish Daily Fix nutritional probiotic supplement in Joint, Calming, and Skin and Coat formulas; and Nourish grain-free functional dental chews for Hip and Joint, Breath, and Skin and Coat.

Boone: We are launching our fourth unique flea and tick fragrance later this month—peppermint. We have a plan to launch 12 products in the next 12 months, and we’re very excited about the roadmap to keep solving customers’ unmet needs with innovation and quality, and always made with love in Austin, Texas.

Brandly: TropiClean recently introduced our new Life by TropiClean Hip & Joint Supplement for Dogs and our Life by TropiClean Calming Aid for Dogs. Both supplements contain natural and healthy ingredients to help support our dog’s life. The Hip & Joint Supplement has a unique blend of collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin that helps support mobility and joint comfort. Our Calming Aid supplement contains a balanced blend of herbs, coconut oil and L-theanine (suntheanine), helping relieve nervousness and tension during times of stress.