Natural Canine Nutrition

By bringing natural, premium diets into the store, retailers will attract the growing number of health-conscious consumers who can’t find the products they want at mass retail.


As children our parents tell us to eat our vegetables and not to consume junk food, and pet parents must make similar decisions for their furry family members. Food is the fuel that pets’ bodies use to play, chase, romp and snuggle, and nutrients strengthen the immune system so a pet can live a long, healthy life. Feeding a dog a cheap commercial pet food is like feeding a child junk food everyday, so more pet parents are turning to fresh, wholesome pet foods for a healthier option. For retailers, offering high-quality natural diets shows customers that the store cares about the health and happiness of their pets, and the sales from these products won’t hurt the store’s bottom line either.

According to their physiology, dogs are carnivores, but that doesn’t mean they should eat an all-meat diet. Carnivores get the nutrients they need from eating other animals, which includes raw bones, organs and stomach contents. The closer a food is to a dog’s natural wild diet, the closer that dog will come to obtaining the nutrients it needs to enjoy good health. But there aren’t many pet owners bringing home whole prey animals for their pets to eat, so retailers must provide other options.

Premium Diets
Before pet food was introduced, pet owners shared meals with their animal companions. Today, even the most well-intentioned owners don’t have the time or inclination to routinely feed a home-cooked diet to their dogs. Retailers can help these owners by stocking their shelves with premium diets.

“The higher quality the food and the closer it is to a natural state, the higher the nutritional value,” explains Christine Hackett, president of Petropics, the manufacturer of Tiki Dog food. “Anytime nutrition is compromised, so is the pet’s health, so by providing a pet with a premium diet full of protein, antioxidants, amino acids and omegas, a pet owner is contributing to their pet’s happiness and vitality.”

Diets vary in terms of quality of ingredients and nutritional value, and every food is made with a different formula. Retailers need to understand how to read ingredient labels so they know what is in every bag or can of food on store shelves. And don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer to ask questions.

“Lesser-quality foods have manipulated ingredients,” says Hackett. “For example, they may use meal in place of whole meats. When a food is pulverized into a meatloaf format or carbonized and baked as kibble, it is just not as healthy. It is essentially what we humans would consider to be ‘fast food.’”

Raw Food
One type of premium diet to consider for the store is raw food. Experts say that raw food diets are the closest option to what a dog would eat in the wild. Some benefits of feeding a raw food diet to a dog include stronger disease and parasite resistance, elimination of bad body odor and breath, healthy skin and coat and improved digestion.

“The benefits of feeding a raw diet are numerous because, as they say, you are what you eat, and the same applies to our beloved companion animals,” says Maggie Johnson, co-owner of Sojourner Farms. “Raw diets consist of uncooked, unaltered, real food that has not been over-processed or loaded with chemicals, preservatives, additives or food coloring. When pet parents feed uncooked ingredients, whether they are in the form of frozen raw patties or a dehydrated or freeze-dried pre-mix, they are feeding authentic foods that still contain vitamins and minerals essential for health and well-being.”

Jill Gainer, brand director for Nature’s Variety, agrees that raw food is the way to go. “Raw food is the most natural form of nutrition for a dog or cat,” she says. “A diet consisting primarily of raw meat, organ meats, bone and fat reflects what a pet would eat in its natural habitat. We have customers experience transformational results and send us amazing testimonials, such as freedom from food allergies, help with weight issues, shiny teeth and fresh breath, firmer/smaller stools, and improved skin and coat. Simply put, raw diets provide nutrition the way nature intended.”

Johnson adds that pets on raw diets experience an improved immune system, clear eyes and ears and more muscle definition. “Healthy fresh fruits and veggies also contain fiber that has not been altered, thus anal glands and digestive issues tend to clear up.”

Johnson also believes that raw diets have a beneficial affect on the canine spirit. “Dogs are more vibrant and alert when fed a raw diet,” she says. “When a domestic animal that has been fed a commercial diet for years is switched to a raw diet, the digestive system is re-born–old dogs seem puppy-like and picky pets dance by the refrigerator door at mealtime. Raw diets are truly holistic, affecting the mind, body and soul of our canine friends.”

Marketing Premium Diets
Premium diets are great for independent retailers, not only because big-box stores tend not to carry them, but also because smaller retailers can use these diets to form connections with their customers, providing them with the education they might need to understand how and why premium diets are a terrific option for their pets.

“Education should be considered on several levels,” says Johnson. “Staff education will give employees the knowledge and understanding they need in order to explain and recommend raw diets. On-the-floor-education can consist of having brochures and taster samples easily accessible to curious customers, as well as streaming demo videos and educational product displays and even a weekend seminar on the importance of feeding healthy pet foods.”

In terms of education, Gainer says that personal testimonials work best. “Nature’s Variety encourages retailers to feed raw diets to their pets and to share their stories with consumers.”

Of course, it’s important that retailers provide strong visibility to the category in the store as well. Gainer encourages the use of glass-front freezers or customized graphics on the front of opaque freezers to help draw people to open the door and see what’s inside.

“And good placement of freezers in the store is key to helping promote the category,” explains Gainer. “Directional signage above or on top of freezers also helps. Finally, retailers can encourage new consumers to try raw by suggesting ways to try it–as a sole meal, as a topper for flavor on kibble, or freeze-dried raw.”

Johnson says that once customers are well informed about raw diets, they are more likely to try them; and chances are they will come back to the store excited to share their own success story. “Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty,” she explains, “and retailers can expect those happy pet lovers to tell everyone they know.”

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