Pet Food Toppers & Mixers
Pet food toppers and mixers are expanding into different forms, flavors and uses.
Toppers and mixers for pet food are like sprinkles and gravy for human food. But while sweet toppings and savory condiments add flavor to the food that people eat, the toppers, mixers and broths for dog and cat food offer nutrition and moisture, in addition to flavor. As consumers continue to shop for healthy upgrades to their pet’s kibble, these tasty and beneficial add-ons stand out.
Meal enhancement is a big trend right now. According to a survey by San Diego-based The Honest Kitchen, more than 64 percent of dog owners mix extra food ingredients into their dog’s kibble as a way to add variety, taste and nourishment. The company recently launched Pour Overs, stews that pet owners can add to their pets’ foods for extra nutrients and palatability.
Manufacturers say the desire for variety is one of the main drivers of the toppers and mixers trend.
“We believe that serving a meal to our four-legged family member is a wonderful bonding experience,” says Jilliann Smith, director of communications for Merrick Pet Care, based in Evanston, Ill. “We want our pets to enjoy mealtime and relish every mouthful, but also want to make sure we are providing the nutrition they need to thrive.”
While the pet enjoys the range of flavors and textures, consumers want the toppers, mixers and broths to have nutritional benefits. Smith says Merrick Backcountry Freeze-Dried Raw Meal Mixers gives dogs a boost of protein in their diet.
For cats, hydration is important, and the new line of Merrick Purrfect Bistro Bon Appétits Gravies feature chunks of meat in a high-moisture gravy, and help provide up to 25 percent of a cat’s daily water intake.
The products provide variety in flavors and textures, as well as in nutrients.
“It’s the same concept we use as humans,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass. “Not only would we get bored eating chicken and spinach every day, but we also would not have access to the wider list of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and proteins found in other food sources.”
Others agree that variety is an important part of feeding a pet.
“We think mealtime can be an enjoyable experience with your pet by adding variety and customizing meals,” says Michael Landa, founder and CEO of Nulo in Austin, Texas. “You can make over three hundred recipe combinations by using Nulo high-meat kibble, freeze-dried, bone broths and meaty pouches.”
Adding a new flavor can encourage picky eaters to eat their food, and broth adds moisture. Convenience is also a big seller, so Nulo’s bone broths are packaged as single-serve, tear-and-pour broths that do not require refrigeration or freezing at the retail level. The new broths are available in organic chicken, wild-caught salmon and grass-fed beef.
Toppers and mixers can also encourage sick dogs and cats to eat their food.
“Pet parents are buying the food because the animals have health issues or they don’t love to eat their food,” says Mary Helen Horn, president and executive director of Ziwi Pets, a New Zealand company with a U.S. corporate office in Overland Park, Kan.
The company offers Ziwi Peak Air Dried, which can be used as a complete and balanced diet or as a pet food topper. There are both dog recipes and cat recipes available, which are 96 percent meat.
“Pet parents want to entice an animal to eat, and meat does that,” Horn says. They contain New Zealand green-lipped mussel for natural glucosamine and chondroitin.
Frozen toppers are also gaining popularity.
“Primal frozen toppers and other supplemental products are growing incredibly fast,” says Lindsay Meyers, marketing manager for Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco. “Pet parents want a convenient and cost effective way to provide fresh natural foods to their pets.”
Primal Pet Foods recently launched a line of frozen whole food toppers called Primal Edible Elixirs. The foods are broth-based and contain 100 percent organic produce. The three varieties are Healthy Green Smoothie (for Immunity Boost) with organic greens, organic chia seeds and a blend of organic medicinal mushrooms; Winter Squash Puree (for Digestive Support), a base of organic butternut squash with organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a probiotic blend; and Omega Mussel Mélange (for Joint Health) with steamed mussels, organic olive oil and turmeric.
Mix It Up
Meyers recommends merchandising frozen toppers like broth, goat milk and frozen, bite-sized raw in glass-front freezers in an area that is accessible to staff and to shoppers.
“Retailers should feature the freezer to insulate themselves from the threat of online and to attach consumers to their store,” Meyers says. “There are some smaller glass front units that can be placed right at the register or in an endcap to help with visibility.”
Prices should be easy to spot without the need to open the freezer door.
“Toppers are an interesting category,” says Leary-Coutu. “Like dry and wet recipes, they can be fed during every meal, but like treats, they are often thought of as a way to delight our pet.”
The company recommends designating a special aisle or area in the store for toppers and mixers to draw attention to the category.
Others recommend displaying the mixers with food. Nulo, which offers Mix-It products that include human-grade bone broths for dogs and cats, works with retailers to enhance the merchandising of the in-line kibble sets by including toppers. The company provides educational signage to facilitate trial, engagement and basket build. There are also recipe cards for combination meals created by celebrity ambassadors Michael Phelps, Katie Lee and Ted Allen.
Since the products fill various roles, they can be merchandised in more than one area of the store.
“Our toppers and meal enhancers can be marketed alongside the traditional kibble recipes, as well as in the treat aisle,” says Smith.
In-store signage can help, as can retail staff, so Merrick works with its retail partners. “Store teams can play a very important role in educating pet parents about our products—how to make mealtime fun and interesting.” PB