From Raw to Refined

Launched nearly a decade ago as one of the first producers of frozen raw diets for dogs and cats, Nature’s Variety has evolved into one of the preeminent names in holistic pet nutrition.


Nature’s Variety was one of the earliest pioneers of the frozen raw pet food market when it began selling these products eight years ago. Enjoying early success with this relatively new concept in pet nutrition, the company soon branched out into the more traditional areas of dry and canned foods to complement its raw diets.

“[The dry and canned foods] were developed to be easily rotated amongst not only proteins within the forms, but also across forms,” says Reed Howlett, chief executive officer of the St. Louis-based company. “Based on the premise that pets don’t like to eat the same thing every day, the idea was to formulate a diet that would allow an ease of transitioning among proteins and forms, without digestive upset.”

While its evolving lineup of products brought even more success, and significant growth, for the company, Howlett saw room for improvement when he joined the company two years ago. “I recognized that we had an opportunity to chart a course that could be very exciting as it continued to grow,” he says. “But that was going to require some changes to how the brand was presented to the consumer–in a way that made it a lot more approachable and made it easier to understand.”

Refined by Design
The first step in improving the company’s approach to marketing was to assemble focus groups to better understand how Nature’s Variety products, and the natural/holistic pet food category in general, are perceived by pet owners. Through this research, the company identified three basic consumer segments, based on their attitudes toward pets: Loving Nurturers–individuals for whom the highest form of affection they can show their pets is by feeding them the best food available; Dedicated Experts–shoppers who take a more analytical approach to feeding and do a lot of research in order to make informed purchasing decisions; and True Advocates–shoppers who typically adopt the latest forms of feeding and are very influential on other shopper segments.

Armed with this knowledge, the Nature’s Variety team set about redesigning its product packaging to speak to the appropriate consumer segments. For example, products marketed under the company’s Instinct brand, which comprises grain-free and raw foods, target “Dedicated Experts.” With that in mind, says Howlett, “You’ll see more claims on [the packaging]; you’ll see some other call-outs that really speak to the individual who wants to do that deep research and understand a lot of those details.”

On the other hand, he says, the company’s main food line (the Prairie line) is targeted primarily at the “Loving Nurturer” segment, and thus less emphasis is placed on claims and call-outs on its packaging.

Understanding that a major revamping of all its product packaging (including the Nature’s Variety logo itself) could create confusion amongst consumers, the company came up with a comprehensive transition strategy that utilizes resources such as on-pack stickers, freezer decals and shelf signage to make a clear connection between the old and new designs. To further support the changeover, the company updated and enhanced its website, dispatched associates to conduct in-store training and significantly increased the budget for its sampling program.

At the end of the day, the efforts put forth by Nature’s Variety are aimed at not only improving the company’s brand, but also driving sales in pet specialty stores, says Howlett. “It’s very exciting to see the opportunities out there for companies that are committed to understanding what the consumer wants and willing to work with retailers to drive product innovation and improve branding and communication overall so that consumers who are shopping independent retail continue to feel as though that is the place they need to go to find the best products available for their pets.”

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