A Natural Fit
Retail buyers will find all of the products and information they need to tap into the growing natural products trend in The Natural Pet section of the Global Pet Expo show floor.
The natural pet products movement began as a niche trend. People were looking for healthier and safer options for themselves and their children; and as humanization swept in, that carried over into what shoppers wanted for their pets, as well. But what started out as a trend has evolved into a mainstay of the pet industry.
“Natural is not a trend anymore,” says Oscar Tenorio, product line manager of Purelife 4Pets by Vetimed, Inc. (booth 3912), an all-natural line of pet supplements. “It has become a lifestyle.
“We have seen this go from the pet food industry all the way to poop bags, where now companies are using recyclable or biodegradable materials.”
So, it is no surprise that The Natural Pet Section of Global Pet Expo is consistently one of the most popular sections of the show floor, drawing industry experts, the media and retail buyers alike. Nor is it surprising that this year, The Natural Pet section is larger than it has ever been.
That’s good for both manufacturers and buyers, according to Jill Taft, founder of Logic Products (booth 4250) which manufacturers the Barklogic line of natural grooming products. For buyers, she says, “Global is such a big show, and there are so many different categories that it can be overwhelming for them to try to locate products that are relevant to their needs. Having a natural section really cuts down on the amount of time and work a potential buyer has to spend trying to find products that are relevant to their store.”
The advantage for manufacturers, on the other hand, is a chance to reach interested buyers who may not be aware of their products. “A buyer who’s looking for a natural pet shampoo may not necessarily think that they want a natural pet toy,” Taft explains.
But when these buyers come across a booth with natural pet toys, she says, they think, “Wow, there’s a whole bunch of natural products out here that I never thought of, so let’s explore all of the categories within the natural space.”
There may be many different types of products that make it into the natural category, but edibles—food, treats and supplements—are still, by far, the largest segment of the industry. “The demand for natural products is a driving force behind the growth of the treat category and one that consumers are placing a greater emphasis on each year,” says Chris Meiering, director of innovation at Zuke’s (booth 4127).
Zuke’s offers natural treats and will be debuting a new line of natural and nutritious low-calorie treats called Skinny Bake 5’s at the show.
Zuke’s new treats represent just one of the many trends that are popular within the natural treat and food category today. In addition to health-conscious and weight-conscious edibles, demand for alternative protein sources, simple ingredient lists, clear ingredient sourcing, and cleaner manufacturing processes all continue to grow as well.
“Alternative proteins have become a hot trend recently among pet parents with dogs that are sensitive to certain proteins, but also [with] those who are in search of ways to keep treat time more enjoyable and varied,” says Meiering. So, retailers should have options that don’t include meat proteins at all. “These vegetable-based recipes are popular for consumers whose pets have allergies, are on raw diets or just want more veggies in their pet’s diet.”
“Recent growth in healthy alternative pet foods has been explosive,” agrees Ward Johnson, owner of Sojo’s (booth 4359), which makes the freeze-dried Sojos Complete diet, in addition to several other alternative food and treat options. “Obviously, kibble still owns the dominant market share because of its convenience. But now that more and more pet parents are discovering that fresh, raw food can be convenient, too—there’s no question. Alternative foods will keep growing by leaps and bounds.”
“Alternative foods and treats such as raw frozen, raw, freeze dried, dehydrated or baked products have been growing very rapidly in the last few years,” says Olivier Amice, president of Whitebridge Pet Brands LLC (booth 3901), whose family of products includes Cloud Star, and Tiki Cat, Tiki Dog, Gourmet Carnivore.
However, the growth of alternative foods and treats may be about more than just the ingredients themselves. “For many years ‘natural’ was primarily an ingredient concept,” Amice explains. “The rationale was if we use ‘good’ ingredients, we will make good products. Now, we understand that the manufacturing process is as important as the quality of the ingredients to measure the quality of natural products.”
“Maintaining a standard throughout your chain is critical,” agrees Tenorio. That, he says, includes knowing how to formulate a product and where to source quality ingredients.
In the case of raw food, manufacturing might mean not cooking food at all and may be refined simply to formulation; but more generally, an interest in manufacturing processes means that options other than extruded kibble are increasingly being cast into the spotlight.
In addition to alternative proteins and new interest in how edibles are handled before making it to the shelf, Amice adds that products, “free of this or that” will likely continue to be key drivers as well.
Dan Schmitz, national sales manager at Tuffy’s Pet Foods (booth 4027), agrees that alternative proteins are becoming more popular, but he gets a bit more specific about what shoppers are hoping not to find in their pets foods these days. Grain- and gluten-free products are a growing trend he says.
In fact, many experts point to alternative proteins and grain- and gluten-free products as the trends to watch for the year ahead. “We expect a continuing shift to grain-free—and a greater demand for exotic proteins,” says Johnson. Sojos is launching Sojos Wild, a new ultra-premium grain-free, raw, shelf-stable line, at the show, capitalizing on almost all the current trends at once.
Eventually, however, Johnson expects the trend to take the next, natural step. “I expect buyers to start looking beyond the absence of grains—to the base ingredients used, instead,” he says. “For example, some brands substitute relatively benign base ingredients, like rice, white potato or tapioca. I expect a growing demand for ultra-healthy alternatives—like sweet potato, peas or garbanzo beans.”
Johnson says that is why Sojos Wild is made with purple sweet potato, parsnips, green peas and green beans, with exotic meats as the No. 1 ingredient.
Schmitz points out another important—but often overlooked—trend: the importance of high-impact packaging. “Packaging is always something that is important for manufacturers to introduce at Global, and I fully expect this again,” he says. Tuffy’s will be introducing a 40-pound bonus bag of its NutriSource Chicken & Rice product, as well as a new chicken-based diet with a smaller kibble for smaller dogs.
Nulo Pet Food (booth 4120) will also be introducing new package sizes for its grain-free kibble product line, Nulo FreeStyle, at the show, says Steve Portch, vice president of sales.
What It Means to Be Natural
While those trends are mostly specific to natural edible products, some of them run parallel to trends within the natural category as a whole, including materials sourcing, manufacturing processes and health consciousness. Ultimately, that is what natural tends to mean for most shoppers—good for their pets.
When asked, no two manufacturers offer up exactly the same definition of the word “natural.”
“Package labeling can be deceiving,” says Paula Savarese, president of Dogs Love Kale (booth 4457), which offers all-natural gluten-free dog treats made with kale.
Even “all natural” doesn’t always mean healthy, and labels like organic and premium are often used to imply healthy, but aren’t actually any more specific, she explains. “Made in the USA does not [even] necessarily mean that the ingredients actually originated in the U.S.,” she says.
It is important that retailers determine what these terms will mean for their store, and then vet products carefully based on that standard. “Choose wisely for your customers,” advises Savarese.
“The products and brands offered by retailers play an important role in defining and differentiating them from their competitors,” agrees Johnson. “I think that’s particularly true in pet specialty—where choosing manufacturers who are 100 percent committed to natural products has helped independent retailers successfully compete with the big boxes.”
This often means reading ingredient list and talking to manufacturers in depth about how they create their products—a task that would be insurmountable without The Natural Pet section of the floor. “Having a separate ‘natural’ section on the trade show floor helps those independent store buyers quickly find, compare and select the kind of brand partners they’re looking for,” says Johnson.
So, even though breaking the floor down into sections doesn’t eliminate the need to do additional research, it at least reduces the amount of time buyers must look specifically for natural products before they can even begin those important conversations.
“Breaking the show floor into sections allows the retailers to make better use of their time,” says Portch.
That is a trend everyone can get behind.