Human (and Pet) Nature
Trends in natural nutrition continue to follow human food trends, so retailers must be prepared to answer any and all questions regarding their offerings.
When it comes to natural nutrition, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether one is talking about foods for humans or for pets.
Increasingly, pet parents are demanding premium ingredients, local sourcing, customized recipes and variety in the foods they buy for the furry friends—a reflection of what consumers look for in human food products.
“We’re seeing sharp focus on the ingredients that are going into foods,” says Brad Gruber, president and chief operating officer of Holistic Health Extension, based in Deer Park, N.Y. “Consumers are stepping up their demand for clarification and how products are made. They’re no longer interested in formulated products but rather products that are made in a more humane and natural way. We will also see more nutrient-packed superfoods, such as chia, kale, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, etc., added to foods.”
According to Gruber, this trend is being driven by Baby Boomers, but Millennials are also interested in natural pet foods, even if they are on limited budgets. Millennials are especially interested in gluten-free, low carb, high fiber, vegan and ultra-protein sources.
Holistic Health Extension has responded to these consumer demands with six new 2.8-ounce Grain Free Cat Can formulas that contain high-quality protein sources, are low in carbohydrates and have ingredients such as apple cider vinegar and coconut oil. The cans are designed to help boost a cat’s immune system, aid in digestion and support kidney health.
For dogs, the company is launching its first breed-specific product, Large Breed Recipe, formulated as a complete and balanced food. The product has feeding guidelines so pet owners can monitor calcium and calorie content and prevent over-feeding. Holistic Health Extension says the recipe will help lower the risk of skeletal issues while helping dogs cope with issues associated with rapid growth periods. The Large Breed Recipe will be available in one and 30-pound sizes.
On the natural treat side, Holistic Health Extension is introducing made in the USA Whole Muscle Jerky that is all natural and gluten free. The chicken jerky has no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.
In addition to simply carrying natural products, stores need to merchandise items in a way that doesn’t overwhelm shoppers.
“Categorizing the shelf by natural, grain free, specialty, and functional foods enables the consumer to shop by need on a more focused basis, which can ease confusion and make the shopping experience a more desirable one,” says Gruber.
Packaging can sometimes be misleading, says Sara Morgan, founder and CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based Frenchie’s Kitchen.
“Many consumers see beautiful pictures of fresh ingredients on the packaging and think they are buying natural food,” she says. “However, many times it is nothing close to that. Man’s best friend deserves more. The pet food companies need to be held accountable.”
Pet owners count on stores to provide not only natural foods, but also correct information. Morgan adds that retailers should do their research and make sure the foods they’re stocking are what they claim to be. Retailers should ask questions regarding ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing practices before deciding to bring in a product.
“Most consumers truly want a natural pet food, but they don’t really know what that means or how to tell the difference between misleading advertising and the real deal.” Morgan says. “Pet parents want to make the best choice for their dog based on their budget and lifestyle, and they depend on the retailers to help them make the best choice.”
Frenchie’s Kitchen added Tasty Toppers for Dogs Vegan Veggie Stew to its line of human-grade stews. This all-natural, grain-free product was created to provide a boost of natural vitamins and minerals to dogs with sensitivities to specific proteins.
Ingredient visibility isn’t the only trend in natural foods. Innovative processes such as freeze-dried, air-dried and raw are also on-trend now, says Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience for WellPet, based in Tewksbury, Mass.
“Not only do these new categories help break up the monotony of mealtime by allowing pet parents to introduce new and exciting textures into their pets’ diets, but they also pack more of a punch when it comes to delivering pure protein, vital nutrients and whole foods,” she says.
Pet parents who latch onto these trends represent various demographics, income levels and geographic regions, Leary-Coutu says. What they have in common is reading ingredient labels, researching health benefits and being attentive to sourcing.
“They also understand that quality nutrition can help build the foundation of a long and happy life, so they’re hyper selective when it comes to choosing the right meals and snacks for their dog or cat,” Leary-Coutu says.
Since these consumers are proactive and involved pet parents, Leary-Coutu says retailers should merchandise natural foods in a way that invites education through exploration and conversation. While many retailers dedicate entire aisles to the natural category, these stores should use in-store sampling, demos and other hands-on approaches to invite the natural shopper to learn about new recipes—especially in the raw, freeze-dried and air-dried categories.
This year, WellPet launched its first raw recipe, Wellness CORE RawRev, which combines high-protein kibble and 100 percent raw bites of freeze-dried protein. The food is available in Turkey, Lamb and Turkey (Small Breed) recipes. Also new is Wellness CORE 100 percent Freeze Dried Treats for dogs made with a single raw ingredient to deliver high protein. The treats have two calories each and are grain, gluten and filler free. They are available in Boar, Salmon, Turkey and Beef flavors.
The Latest Trends
Alternative protein sources are also a rising trend, says Dan Schmitz, national sales manager for Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands. Pet parents are looking for venison, wild boar, quail, duck and kangaroo because of their added benefits for pets with allergies or digestive issues, Schmitz says. Non-meat carb sources such as lentils and garbanzo beans have also become popular ingredients.
Schmitz says KLN Family Brands, which manufactures Tuffy’s Pet Foods and other brands, will soon enter the freeze-dried and dehydrated market with dog and cat treats and add dry kibble within the whole-grain and grain-free lineups. Schmitz also mentions the growing demand for canned food, saying KLN will expand in that area as well.
Redbarn Pet Products, based in Long Beach, Calif., answers the demand for canned natural foods with its all-natural Grain-Free Canned Patès and Stews. The cans have added vitamins and minerals to support all AAFCO profiles for life stages. 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. It’s available in six formulas: Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Ocean Fish, Duck and Turkey. Redbarn’s Canned Stews are available in five recipes: Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Turkey and Steak and Egg.
While pet owners are now educating themselves more, they still expect manufacturers to offer more thorough information about ingredients and more.
“Consumers are looking for high-quality, minimally processed products and transparency from manufacturers,” says Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food, Inc., based in Portland, Ore. “People are making more informed choices than they used to and are really seeing the changes that happen in their pets as a result of proper diet and nutrition. Today, more pet owners are wanting the same quality of products for their pets that they use for themselves.”
Retailers can succeed in the natural space by merchandising the right products and making it easy for shoppers to get more information.
“Everyone needs to define what the term ‘natural’ is for them and make decisions on what products they carry that are in line with that definition, and then communicate that decision-making process forward to their employees,” says Hatch-Rizzi. “Many retailers are looking closely at what manufacturers are doing and the ingredients they’re using to help educate their staff and customers. The more knowledgeable the staff is about the products in the ‘natural’ category, the easier it will be to impart information to customers to help them decide on products that are best for their pets.”
Radagast recently launched its Natural Pork Recipe, the sixth protein in the Rad Cat Raw Diet line of raw food for cats. It will be available in three sizes. The natural pork is raised without antibiotics, hormones or growth stimulants.
“We have been making this pork variety for our cats for almost a year now,” she says. “We tried different cuts of meat, but found the shoulder has the perfect balance of protein and fat. It’s very lean and flavorful, and our cats absolutely love it.”