The designation “natural” or “all natural” can make the search for high-quality pet foods largely unobtrusive. But today’s pet owners have less interest in the “natural” label alone and are investing in more quality, healthy ingredients for their pets, according to industry insiders.
Andrea Falcone, director of marketing and social media for Bocce’s Bakery, a Brooklyn-based candy factory, said consumers who shop for natural products typically look for short ingredient lists.
Pet owners are steadily inquiring about high-quality nutrition for their dogs; However, insiders report that more owners are doing their own research to understand natural diets. Justin McClingan, owner of Justin’s Pet Shop in Coburg, Ontario, Canada, said consumers are becoming more self-educated and asking fewer questions during their visits.
Refrigerated diet options and customization are emerging growth drivers in this category, said Gabrielle Wesley, marketing director for Mars Petcare, a manufacturer in Franklin, Tennessee.
“Three major trends we see come to life in the natural foods category are: ingredient transparency, freshness, and excellence,” Wesley said. “We are constantly monitoring human food trends and looking for opportunities to translate them into pet food when it makes sense. With ingredients being transparent, consumers are increasingly looking for fewer identifiable ingredients in the products they buy – whether for themselves or their pets.”
With regard to pet foods, “natural” can also mean a lack of artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives, Wesley noted. Mars Petcare plans to release new dog food recipes in early 2022, each in line with natural trends.
“We believe pet parents are looking for food rich in nutrients, full of flavor and made with the highest quality ingredients. Our recipes are made with real beef, lamb, chicken or turkey as the first ingredient, and we exclusively source non-GMO ingredients as close as possible,” Wesley said. From their original form. “We never add artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors and we don’t use ingredients like chicken by-product, cornmeal, or soy protein.”
“Natural” is a descriptive term that sounds positive on a superficial level, said Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension, a manufacturer in Hauppauge, New York.
“In an effort to appeal to consumers, manufacturers have used the term ‘natural’ on pet food labels,” Gruber said, adding, however, that there are guidelines that pet food companies must adhere to before labeling their products as “natural.”
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines a “natural” feed product or feed ingredient as derived from plant or animal sources or extracted from mining, not chemically produced or synthetic, and does not contain any additives or processing aids that are manufactured Chemically, except in such quantities as may occur in good manufacturing practices.
“In a sense, ‘natural’ means as close to nature as possible with purer, simpler, higher quality ingredients,” Gruber said. “We use only the most stringent quality, natural foods and natural ingredients that contain high levels of grass-fed animal proteins. or free pastures or wild hunting.”
Gruber added that there are two main social trends fueling growth in the natural foods category.
“One is to humanize pet food to reflect the foods humans eat themselves, and the second is to require pet parents to understand transparency across the entire supply chain of how, where and what pet food enters and how these ingredients are cleaned,” he said.
Health Extension released Super Bites, a super-freeze diet for dogs, in June 2021. Super Bites aid with digestion and overall health, and provide an easy way to turn ordinary pet food into a culinary delight, Gruber said.
“These new cutting edge bites are naturally healthy foods that enhance a dog’s diet with all the benefits of super tasty ingredients, while playing an important role in strengthening a pet’s diet,” Gruber said. “These non-GMO, grain-free recipes are made with protein-packed chicken, beef, and salmon. They also have a blend of antioxidant-rich superfoods like coconut oil, sweet potatoes, turmeric, and apple cider vinegar that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Fromm Family Foods defines “natural” dog nutrition as including healthy ingredients including meat, fruits, and vegetables, and avoids using ingredients seen as highly processed, said Brian Neiman, brand manager for the pet food company in Mecon, Wisconsin.
“There are many common themes in today’s natural diet market, and many consumer demands center around the idea of variety,” Niemann added. “Consumers desire a variety of ingredients, including major protein sources or grain-free and all-grain options, and diversity in how pet parents treat mealtime in their homes through varied recipes, alternating diets, and packaged options.”
Whole-grain dog foods were also popular. Fromm Family Foods recipes include whole barley, whole oats, and premium fruits and vegetables. In July 2021, Fromm Family Foods introduced the Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Trout & Whitefish recipe for dogs, enhancing its diverse line of premium dog food recipes.
“The recipe features a wholegrain blend of trout and whitefish,” Neyman said. “It offers high-quality proteins including trout, whitefish, salmon, eggs, and minhaden fish meal, and is free from chicken and potatoes. The trout and whitefish recipe is also the first four-star dog food to include the Miscanthus grass in its formula, a nutrient that enhances Gut health. It is designed to be fed alone or alternately with any other Fromm’s recipe.”
Create educational presentations
Considering customers’ pet nutritional concerns can be vital for pet retailers to evaluate their assortment of stores within this category. By formulating an eclectic range of natural pet food brands, including solution-based diets, retailers can successfully provide shoppers with options without overwhelming them with the product, industry insiders said.
“Offering a selection of brands by price, Brad Gruber, president of Health Extension, a manufacturer in Hauppauge NY, said: [for example]good, better, better, has a place in most stores.”
Gruber also suggested using displays to promote products that make a healthier pet.
Organizing shelves so that pet owners can clearly identify nutrition labels can play a major role in how customers shop for the natural foods sections of retail locations.
“Keeping the aisles clean and orderly is essential,” said Mary Morris, owner of Tail Waggin’ Pet Shop in Kansas City, Missouri. “We pull bags of food products to the end of the shelves and ensure that nutrition labels are visible to customers.”
Fromm Family Foods is constantly launching new natural diet lines, helping to revive the stock on the shelves, Morris said.
Insiders noted that retailers should keep their pet food products current and organize shelves according to specific nutritional concerns.
“Now more than ever, I see an increasing number of natural diets focusing on specific issues,” said Justin McClingan, owner of Justin’s Pet Shop in Coburg, Ontario, Canada. Examples include urological care, kidney, digestive system, and weight management. This solution-based diet trend has been growing in the pet food market for years and is now popular in the natural pet food market.”
The shelves can also be organized to highlight the different nutritional profiles offered by the different formulas. Organizing offerings so customers can select product lines to suit their pets’ specific nutritional needs is critical, said Brian Neiman, brand manager of Fromm Family Foods in Mecon, Wisconsin.
“At Fromm, we have three unique product lines of dry dog food: Classic, Gold, and Four Star Nutrition,” Neiman said. “They all provide complete and balanced nutrition and are considered natural products but at different price points and a variety of recipes to meet customer demand.”
Amy Snell, national sales manager at Northwest Naturals in Portland, Oregon.
What is a common misconception about “natural” pet foods that retailers should keep in mind as they educate customers in making the right diet choices for their pets? How does Northwest Naturals educate pet owners, and what’s new in the company?
One of the most common misconceptions we often hear from consumers at Northwest Naturals is their concern about feeding their pets raw food because it is full of harmful bacteria. Consumers often ask, “Wouldn’t that make my dog (or cat) sick?” This question then leads to a conversation describing the pet’s diet and how it is designed to eat and digest raw meat along with any bacteria it may contain.
Northwest Naturals has continued to grow our online presence through social media platforms, from Facebook and Instagram to the now very popular TikTok. Here we’re sharing fun facts about raw food, pet food for consumers and retailers, and announcing new storage tick codes soon to be in stores. Last week, our followers learned about a 28-ounce bag of freeze-dried recipes for dogs. Soon they will also learn about our newest recipe, Beef & Trout. This will be in all sizes of frozen and freeze-dried raw materials for both dogs and cats.