Over the past decade there has been a steep increase in natural and eco-friendly pet product sales, and there is a trend responsible for this upsurge.
Before the turn of the century, customers did not see a large selection of natural and organic products on the shelves at their local pet store. While there were manufacturers producing natural products before 2000, these items did not bring in much when it came to annual sales. In addition, retailers carrying these products had to have a natural-minded customer base, otherwise these higher-priced items would sit on store shelves collecting dust.
Today, it’s a completely different story. Not only have large manufacturers like Hill’s, Iams, Hartz, Sergeants and Central increased their presence in the natural segment, a plethora of new, smaller natural-minded companies have saturated the industry. And most pet retailers now carry, at the very least, a selection of natural and eco-friendly food, toys and grooming products.
“We are long past the days when you had to find a health food store to get natural products,” says Andrew Darmohraj, senior vice president of the American Pet Products Association. “These products are so much more readily available . . . pretty much anywhere you shop. That access has made it easier for shoppers to incorporate natural products into their regular shopping habits.”
The growing popularity of all-natural, earth-friendly organic pet products even influenced the decision to launch The Natural Pet, a new section at Global Pet Expo 2010. The section highlighted new, innovative products for the eco-friendly pet owner, and it encouraged growth in this product sector.
So what is responsible for this shift towards all things natural in the pet industry? First and foremost is the pet humanization movement that has swept the country. Pets are now considered to be members of the family, and owners are purchasing pet products with the same scrutiny with which they purchase items for their children.
The Humanization Trend
Many have speculated on the reasons why, over the past decade, pets are being treated more and more like family members. Some say that a breakdown of social networks–less children being born, more divorces taking place–have led to people using pets to fill the voids in their lives. Some scientists even cite a chemical reaction in the brain when owners look at their dogs. Whatever the reason, many pets are now being treated just like any adored child would be, and that means owners are buying better food, treats and supplements to keep the animal happy and healthy.
“Over a decade ago, when Cloud Star first started selling one of the first mass-produced and reasonably priced natural pet treats, Buddy Biscuits, we were laughed out of buying offices,” says Jennifer Melton, the company’s co-founder. “Some buyers didn’t understand the importance of feeding pets a natural and holistic diet. That attitude has clearly changed.”
What happened, quite simply, was people started taking better care of themselves, especially in terms of diet. Then, as household pets began to be considered important family members, pet owners started looking for healthy nutrition options for their pets as well.
“Natural products sales for humans have been growing consistently over the last ten years,” says Darmohraj. “Consumers have developed the need for natural products for themselves, and that need has crossed over to their pets. People who are buying their groceries at Whole Foods want to be sure the family dog is eating just as well. If they are using natural cleaning products in the home, they’ll want natural stain removers as well. Natural products have become so pervasive in everyday life, it’s no surprise that they have become so big in the pet industry.”
Derrik Kassebaum, director of sales at Tropiclean, says that the organic trend in foods has drastically helped grow the entire natural category. It boils down to the fact that “today’s consumer is more earth and health conscious,” he says.
Attracting the Natural Customer
First and foremost, having a good natural section in the store speaks volumes to the consumer. “If a store does not present a natural selection of products, the consumer may not feel as though they are given the best selection of products,” says Kassebaum. “This could drive them to find their goods elsewhere.”
In addition, “the majority of consumers do not purchase something just because it is natural,” explains Kassebaum, “but if two like products are offered, the trend will definitely go to the more natural product.” Because a lot of natural products carry higher price points, shelving these items can help increase a store’s bottom line.
To keep natural customer coming back, retailers need to make sure they are educated on a variety of topics, including ingredients and health benefits. “I recommend retailers read everything they can get their hands on, from The Whole Dog Journal, which has a lot of invaluable information, to the plethora of books written on everything from raw feeding to allergies in pets,” says Melton. “The more retailers know, the better they can help to answer consumer questions and build customer loyalty.”
Other local pet professionals are also a great resource. Talk to veterinarians, trainers and groomers in the area. “Not only do they understand the local market, they can send natural customers your way,” explains Melton. “Manufacturers are also a good source of information. At Cloud Star, we take all of our calls–we don’t have voicemail–so we’re available to answer our retailers’ questions. Oftentimes, they have a customer right in front of them who needs more information.”
Special events and in-store promotions are another great ways to attract natural customers, especially if the event benefits the environment.
“The influx of natural products at this year’s Global Pet Expo speaks to a growing trend that will only continue to develop and evolve as the years progress,” says Darmohraj.
“Organic and eco-friendly items are at the center of the new product explosion, and the number of new pet products both food and non-food supplies tagged ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ have almost doubled throughout the years, while the number of products making other natural-related claims more than doubled.”
For those retailers that haven’t already done so, it’s a good time to clear space on the shelf for natural items.