The Latest Trends in Dog Food
There’s a lot going on in the dog foods and treats category as product manufacturers come up with new formulas and packaging designed to meet pet owners’ desires to provide the best for their buddies.
Pet products manufacturers make a habit of staying on top of the trends; after all, their very survival depends on it. As such, they can serve as a valuable resource for pet specialty retailers who want to stay not just current but ahead of the curve—and the competition—turning their stores into must-see/must-go places for pet owners. Some of the newest foods and treats tie into emerging trends that are poised for impact, and some are aligned with more established trends that pet specialty retailers should definitely be responding to. Either way, these new foods are sure to be enjoyed by dogs.
When it comes to foods and treats, there are a variety of familiar formats—dehydrated, freeze-dried, kibble, moist/canned, raw frozen and so on. One that may be somewhat less well-known, although this is changing, is air-dried foods. Ziwi USA Inc. provides handcrafted, small-batch air-dried dog and cat foods, rewards and treats made in their family owned kitchens in Christchurch and Mount Maunganui, New Zealand with North American headquarters in Overland Park, Kan. Formulas include Ziwi Peak New Zealand Mackerel and Lamb, and Ziwi Peak New Zealand Venison, as well as the company’s newest air-dried offering, New Zealand Free-Range Chicken. Ziwi also has a moist/canned line for dogs and cats and is expanding its line of natural air-dried chews for dogs.
“Air-drying is a gentle, natural preservation method that has been used for ages to naturally preserve meats,” explains Sharon Durham, marketing communication manager. “Raw meats and organs are combined with kelp, parsley and specially selected vitamins and minerals. This mixture is placed in special drying trays and put into our custom-designed dual drying chambers, where air is circulated to evaporate excess moisture slowly and gently.
Durham says air-dried meat remains stable at room temperature for long periods of time. Because calories and nutrition are concentrated, feeding amounts can be smaller. Additionally, no rehydration is required; the food is ready to eat whenever. Ziwi formulas also respond to the interest in whole-prey, species-appropriate, limited-ingredient, grain-free diets, says Durham.
Health Extension Pet Care
Grain-free is a trend that is actually becoming more a way of life, according to Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care. Located in Deer Park, N.Y., the company offers a complete line of GMO-free pet foods for dogs including dry and canned, dental chews, freeze-dried natural jerky, biscuits and crunchy treats, as well as items for cats.
“Gluten- and grain-free is now the norm for many of these households, so it only makes sense to pass this along to our four-legged loved ones. Grains are no longer the staple in the diet and are often the first thing eliminated when an allergy or illness occurs,” says Gruber, who attributes ingredients like corn or wheat to the rise in food allergies dogs are experiencing.
“Although these recipes may have a heavier price tag by removing those cost-effective ingredients, consumers are more likely to choose grain-free diets as their option,” Gruber continues. “The benefits are proven and the results are worth the extra expense.”
Health Extension has recently extended its canned dog food recipes, broadening the selection in its existing grain-free line and offering more exotic proteins. The Geo Destination cans include a variety of formulas like Italian Feast Venison Recipe with Beef and Pork, Tucson Style Quail Recipe with Chicken and Pork Liver, and Northern Catch Recipe with Herring and Whitefish. These minimally processed, human-grade formulas also contain ingredients like pumpkin, fresh veggies and berries, and other “nutritious inclusions,” says Gruber.
“Grain- and gluten-free products are a mandatory category to have available in order to maintain customer retention,” he says. “Pet specialty retailers should focus on this and make sure their staff is educated on these topics as well.”
Tuffy’s Pet Foods
“Solutions for allergies and digestibility issues do seem to be the biggest concerns,” says Dan Schmitz, national sales manager for Tuffy’s Pet Foods, a Perham, Minn. manufacturer of dry and semi-moist dog and cat food. “Grain-free continues to be where the growth is. As pet parents look for solutions to pet issues, grain-free seems to offer the best solution.”
In response to the escalating demand, Tuffy’s has added another recipe—Seafood Select—to its NutriSource grain-free line. This offers salmon meat as its No. 1 ingredient, followed by Menhaden fish meal as its second ingredient. As is the case with all the company’s super-premium foods, this product contains Tuffy’s Good4Life vitamin and mineral pack.
Fromm Family Foods
Grain-free options, along with offering a menu designed to support rotational feeding throughout a dog’s life, are informing product development, say Brian Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods. The Mequon, Wis.-based company offers a complete line of dry and canned foods for dogs and cats that includes Fromm Classic, Gold Nutritionals and Four-Star Nutritionals. The latest addition to this latter line is Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Rancherosa, a grain-free kibble blending beef, lamb, pork and trout along with ingredients like pinto beans, peas and chickpeas.
“We continue to witness the demand for quality and diversity in pet foods and treats from pet parents,” says Nieman. “Within that, we see pet parents looking for more unique protein sources and grain-free options, both demands we continue to meet with our Four-Star Nutritional menu. From the start, this line has allowed us to continually innovate and formulate entrées for dogs and cats rooted in premium nutrition and designed to be completely interchangeable.”
Primal Pet Foods, Inc.
Headquartered in Fairfield, Calif., Primal Pet Foods, Inc. is a manufacturer of raw frozen and freeze-dried formulas, supplemental foods, treats, bones, goat milk and also bone broth, a recent addition to the company’s lineup. Available in four proteins—chicken, turkey, beef and pork—the bone broths are made using edible-grade meaty bones, certified organic veggies, herbs and nutritional supplements, says Matt Koss, president. Bone broths are finding wider and wider acceptance among human consumers, becoming one of the latest trends among foodies and among those interested in upping their protein intake.
“Our bone broths are slowly simmered to extract the marrow and nutrients from the bones, as well as the vitamins from the vegetables,” Koss says, explaining the process. “Hydration and food-based nutrients are the foundation to superior health for canines and felines. Our bone broths can be utilized to rehydrate food formats such as freeze-dried, dehydrated and kibble, as well as being added to canned and other moist foods.”
Nulo Pet Food
Nulo Pet Food, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is paying attention to the issue of overweight pets, a growing concern because of lifestyles that are less than healthy.
“A study of 6,000 households and 11,000 dogs and cats confirmed that just like many people, dogs and cats continue to be significantly overfed and enticed with nutritionally inferior food products while living sedentary lifestyles,” says Heather Acuff, product development manager.
In response, the company has formulated foods and treats that are high in animal-based proteins, are low-carb and low-glycemic, and contain a patented probiotic to aid digestion. A just-introduced product is the FreeStyle Grab N’Go Protein Sticks, described as an “upgraded version of the snack stick.” The grain-free sticks contain 80 percent turkey, salmon or chicken, and are slowly roasted for up to 24 hours. Other ingredients include things like chickpeas, coconut glycerin, salmon oil, organic apple cider vinegar and a patented probiotic.
The sticks contain 4 g of protein and are also intended to target another of Nulo’s consumer demographics—active owners and their active dogs who want a transportable, individually wrapped high-meat snack rather than having to cart around a bag of treats.
“Pet parents are looking for products that fit well with their lifestyles without compromising the integrity of their pet’s nutrition,” says Acuff. “This presents an opportunity for pet specialty retailers to get to know their customers and find ways to help make the nourishment of their pet even easier.”
New in Packaging
Consumer demand for greater ingredient and processing transparency has led to some packaging changes as well, fueled by manufacturers responding to their customer base. Such knowledge allows for more informed decision-making, which has become increasingly important to pet owners. Consequently, pet specialty retailers must make obtaining this information as easy as possible for heightened customer satisfaction and loyalty. And then there are those things that never change—smart retailing, outstanding service and the other touches that transmit the message to customers that their pets, and their patronage, matters.
Nulo has packaged the new sticks in display cartons constructed for easy merchandising throughout the store, says Acuff. In addition to locating these in the foods or treat sections, they also make a good impulse purchase, so retailers should try to place the display cartons at these points as well.
“Retailers should consider their customers’ browsing experience and think outside the confines of a treat aisle to make the most of a treat like this,” she says. “On an end-cap with pet travel gear, on a display for holiday stocking stuffers or at the register for browsing before checkout—these individually wrapped treats invite creativity for in-store placement.”
Demonstrating their ongoing commitment to transparency, Primal has undertaken a package redesign intended to provide consumers with more information about ingredient sourcing, says Koss. Additionally, the company has improved the aesthetics of the packaging for more impactful merchandising.
“This September we’ll be launching a Primal-branded solid wood merchandising shelving unit to complement our growing canine and feline freeze-dried formulas and treats lines,” he adds. “These units will be available to our independent retail partners through their local distribution providers.”
Koss advises establishing a stand-alone section for the raw frozen and freeze-dried categories, since these are currently experiencing strong interest from pet owners and showing good growth. Primal also offers the Demonstration Program, a tool to help retailers promote and grow the alternative pet food category.
Ziwi recently embraced a new look on its packaging, says Durham. “Our packaging clearly communicates our brand identity, which is founded on ethical and sustainable New Zealand sourcing, superior nutrition and product integrity.”
The company was inspired to do so in part because, as air-dried foods and treats catch on with consumers, more companies are launching their own brands of air-dried consumables, activity Durham has noticed happening over the past couple of years.
In response, the company is creating collateral for in-store displays intended to spell out the differences between the Ziwi brand and other competitors. As for merchandising, Durham says the ideal is to place them in their own section, next to freeze-dried and dehydrated, since these products are “fundamentally different than either of the raw alternatives.”
A desire to freshen up their looks with new graphics and new claims led Tuffy’s to embark on a complete redesign of its NutriSource Grain Free line, says Schmitz.
“We also went into a matte finish poly bag,” he adds. “We wanted to differentiate our grain-free bags from our whole-grain lineup. We also wanted to create a trendier package and with the matte finish combined with the new background design, I believe we’ve achieved this. The result is an awesome looking bag on the shelves, one that is packed with solid information that creates a greater value to the customers.”
Despite manufacturer efforts to devise more informational packaging and in-store signage and displays, pet specialty retailers should still take pains to create an educated and informed staff.
“The relationship between retailers and their customers is a very important one, especially within the pet specialty channel where customers often look to retailers as experts in nutrition,” says Nieman. “We always encourage our customers to utilize whatever educational resources or trainings manufacturers provide. Staying current on trends and on current affairs within the pet industry will also allow them to lead conversations and provide the counsel pet parents may be looking for.” PB