Natural Pet Food Evolution

Natural dog and cat foods have many attributes that manufacturers and retailers are eager to communicate to consumers.


The natural pet food category continues to grow as more consumers look for wholesome, nutritious and tasty foods for their dogs and cats. Industry experts say the category is thriving as manufacturers launch products that meet pet owners’ evolving demands for healthful, premium foods. 

“The natural pet food category has been in a state of constant change ever since its creation, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon,” says Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc., in Burbank, Calif. “Consumers are always looking for the next new thing for their pets, whether it is a new format such as raw or dehydrated foods or diets with unique ingredients and inclusions.”

Today, “natural” implies many beneficial attributes. Wigert says among the most important features include premium, high-quality proteins such as duck and venison, and other healthful ingredients such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes and green beans. Also appealing are hand-crafted wet forms that look like home-cooked meals, as well as limited-ingredient formulas that are on trend with human nutrition.  

Natural Balance is launching Delectable Delights wet cups, gourmet formulas designed to satisfy the pet’s palate and also offer high-quality nutrition. Each grain-free wet cup formula is cooked in a savory broth and is available in a variety of formulas featuring natural ingredients with added vitamins and minerals. The company is also launching L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets wet cups for dogs and cats, featuring a single premium-quality protein source and limited carbohydrate sources. “We understand some pets do better with only certain ingredients,” says Wigert. 

Grain-free is still an important trend in natural pet foods. Fromm Family Foods, based in Mequon, Wis., introduced two grain-free recipes—Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals Hasen Duckenpfeffer for dogs and Fromm Hasen Duckenpfeffer for cats. “Both recipes pay homage to our German roots and are inspired by the traditional German Rabbit stew,” says Bryan Nieman, brand director. The new recipes feature rabbit and duck with potatoes, carrots and celery. 

In addition to grain-free, Made in the USA and premium products are also in demand. “Quality and variety, both in ingredients as well as the finished products are very important within the natural pet segment,” says Nieman. “As pet parents continue to be more informed and driven to seek out a better nutritional option for their furry family members, the natural segment will continue to grow as long as they maintain high standards for quality and continue delivering premium nutrition to meet demands.”

Many of these informed consumers get their education when they enter the store, and manufacturers can help turn this quest for knowledge into sales. Fromm provides training and education resources that allow retail partners to better communicate and educate their customers about the benefits of the various foods. 

Pet owners also seek information online. Jayne Adamson, regional sales manager for Tuffy’s Pet Foods in Perham, Minn., says pet specialty retailers should work to improve their online presence, and monitor their social media, chat groups, blogs, email and rescue group connections. “Becoming more sophisticated in their web design, reaching their target audience via website usability, and word of mouth via blogging and discussion boards, provides a savvy pet marketer the opportunity to stand out from the crowd,” says Adamson. 

Tuffy’s has launched several recipes lately. For example, under the super-premium NutriSource brand, the company introduced Grain Free Prairie Select made with Quail and Duck and Grain Free Soft Treat Chicken. Under the Pure Vita brand, new products include Pure Vita Grain Free Venison & Red Lentils Entrée Single Protein Source, and Grain Free Duck & Green Lentils Entrée Single Protein Source. 

“Our dogs and cats need high-quality proteins, fats, carbohydrates and preservatives,” says Adamson. “Natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids must be added since the soil in which foods are grown are typically depleted of many of the nutrients pets need.” 

Alternate proteins are also gaining in the natural space. Although chicken is still the most popular protein for pets, several game meats such as kangaroo, venison, quail, and rabbit are becoming more common. “These proteins are driven by a belief that an ancestral diet is best for our pets,” says Adamson.

Consumers want natural, grain-free, and Made in the USA. “When pet parents spot these trends, they respond positively,” says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products, based in Long Beach, Calif. “We listened to our customers say they wanted more choice with their natural pet food options.” 

Redbarn Pet Products launched two lines of Natural Canned Food for Dogs and Cats, all-Natural, Grain-Free Canned Patès and Stews. The patès feature fewer than 10 ingredients and the stews fewer than 13 ingredients, with added vitamins and minerals. 

Functional foods are also on-trend now, and Redbarn’s Canned Patè line features added functional ingredients to support common canine health issues including immune support, weight control, and skin and joint health. The Patè line has six different formulas and protein choices including Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Ocean Fish, Duck, and Turkey. Redbarn’s Canned Stews are available in five recipes including Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Turkey and Steak and Egg.

Knowledge is Key
Retailers can succeed in the natural pet food space if staff members are informed about functional ingredients and other product details. They also need to be prepared to share this information with customers. For example, certain functional ingredients work better when combined, according to Nutram Pet Products, based in Elmira, Ontario, Canada. Nutram offers an approach it calls Optimum Combinations, ingredients that are paired strategically to offer specific benefits. For example, one of the recipes for cats is Cranberries + Celery Seeds for Healthy Bladder. Cranberries are a natural acidifier, and celery seeds are a natural diuretic that help the body maintain fluid levels. Other recipes include Turkey + Chamomile for a calming effect, Whole Eggs + Quinoa for muscle strength, and Salmon Oil + Rosemary for immunity boost. There are 19 combinations, and the company manufactures foods for dogs and cats. 

“Our product is truly holistic,” says Kirill Tikhomirov, vice president of brand and customer development. “The recipes are designed to offer a solid foundation for balanced nutrition.” 

The foods are available in three categories: Nutram Sound Balanced Wellness, Nutram Ideal Solution Support and Nutram Total Grain-Free. Nutram Pet Products, a division of Elmira Pet Products Ltd., produces the food in Canada and introduced the brand to the U.S. in 2015.

Another newcomer to U.S. pet specialty stores is Canagan Pet Products, a division of Symply Pet Products, which is based in the U.K. and has U.S. headquarters in Florida. Canagan is available in Midwestern Plains Chicken Recipe, North Pacific Salmon recipe, and Country Game Recipe. The foods are grain-free. 

“Trust is the number one issue by retailers and consumers,” says Jack Drasner, vice president of sales and marketing for Canagan. “To most the word natural means safe ingredients and no chemical additives.” 

Drasner says the natural category will continue to grow. “Pet parents will always want what is best for the pets,” he says. “The biggest obstacle will be keeping products affordable for more consumers.”


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