Raw Made Simple
Reed Howlett, CEO of Nature’s Variety, Inc., discusses how his company is making it easier than ever for pet owners to provide their animal companions with wholesome, high-quality nutrition.
Pet Business: At Global Pet Expo, Nature’s Variety announced that it is launching a brand refresh. What inspired this initiative? What will it involve? What is the timeline for the refresh?
Reed Howlett: As Instinct—The Raw Brand, we’re on a mission to transform the lives of pets through the pure, real nutrition of raw. Since our start as a purely raw frozen brand, we set out to really change the way people think about pet food and create a movement toward better pet health. Our goal is to help every pet parent unlock their own pet’s potential to thrive through the unmatched nutrition of raw. That’s why everything we do is derived from the idea that it’s up to us to make raw nutrition simple and easily understood. We want to wake consumers up to a better way to feed, while continuing to lead in innovation that furthers the accessibility of the purest form of pet nutrition.
Our brand refresh rolls out this summer with new packaging and recipes that further deliver on our belief and commitment to raw nutrition in everything we do.
Every choice we made in refreshing our packaging and our recipes was based in consumer research. We spent the better part of 18 months understanding pet parents more deeply than ever before and really getting a sense for what they’re seeking and where the gaps lie. The pet food space is cluttered and overwhelming for the consumer, and in many cases they don’t understand the differences between the various options or whether they should pay attention to buzz words like “natural” or “organic.” Our packaging and recipe choices reflect the transparency and simplicity the consumer is looking for, while also bringing the idea of raw forward more directly than ever before.
The consumer wants to feed better. They’re paying attention to ingredients in a different way—for the average consumer, grain-free and by-product free is no longer enough—and they’re asking more questions about processing. Raw addresses exactly what the consumer is seeking. It inherently delivers on things that matter to them: pure, real, whole-food ingredients; recipes high in protein that’s derived from animal sources and not vegetables; high-quality ingredients and responsibly sourced protein; minimally processed and crafted to be as close to its natural state as possible. Like with the foods they buy for themselves, consumers are demanding greater simplicity in both the food itself and how the packaging communicates.
PB: What are the most important trends in pet food today? How does Nature’s Variety harness these trends in its product lines?
Howlett: Our consumer insights tell us that the most important trend in pet food continues to be innovation that makes raw nutrition even more accessible. We were founded as a purely raw-focused brand and we are committed to making the pure, real nutrition of raw more accessible to more pet parents. We know that adding the nutrition of raw into more bowls—whether that be through frozen raw, freeze-dried raw or our kibble products with raw inclusions—will transform the lives of even more pets. Our innovations have always been designed to do just that. It’s why we were the first to introduce frozen raw bites, making feeding frozen raw more convenient than ever before, and it’s why we were the first to introduce a kibble + raw product with our Instinct Raw Boost Kibble, which changed the category and has enabled more people to add raw to their pets’ diets without giving up the convenience and familiarity of kibble.
PB: What are some of the latest and most exciting product introductions from Nature’s Variety? What are some of the key features of these products?
Howlett: “Redefining better” in pet food is one of our guiding principles. We do this by offering foods that meet pets’ unique needs and tastes without compromising nutrition.
In response to the growing demand for the pure, real nutrition of raw in a tailored recipe for small breed dogs, in 2016 we introduced two varieties of Instinct Raw Bites designed especially for small breed dogs. We also introduced Instinct Raw Boost Mixers as an easy way for any pet parent to add the pure, real nutrition of raw to their pet’s meals by topping their kibble with frozen raw bites.
Our latest innovation was driven by the growing demand for high-protein, wet solutions for dogs and cats. This spring we launched Instinct Minced Cups, Instinct Stews, Instinct dry and wet offerings for kittens and an expanded assortment of Instinct Healthy Cravings. These innovations deliver on our belief in nutrition that is inspired by raw—high in protein and made with real meat and other whole-food ingredients.
PB: What is Nature’s Variety’s approach to consumer marketing? How does the company help drive shoppers into pet specialty stores?
Howlett: Like our packaging and total brand refresh, our consumer marketing is informed by a deep understanding of pet parents’ mindsets and values. We want to be a partner to pet parents as they navigate the many options they have, so it’s all about providing the right information at the right time.
Our marketing is primarily digital, given that a choice in pet food is not low involvement—pet parents are researching, asking questions and moving through the decision-making process at different paces. We set out to communicate to them throughout that process and give them simple and thought-provoking content that allows them to shift their thinking about pet food or to dig deeper into something that they may not be all that familiar with, like raw. Digital is a perfect space for creating that awakening and then following through with educational information that fulfills pet parents’ desire to gather real, trustworthy information as they make big decisions on how to care for their pets.
We also know that pet parents look to retailers and associates as trusted sources, and our digital advertising drives them to those resources to find out more. Instinct partners with retailers to provide educational material that explains raw and its benefits in simple and easy-to-understand terms. We also provide how-to videos and other shareable content to explain ‘why raw,’ as well as how to feed. Our belief is that raw nutrition should fit into every pet’s diet, whether that’s at every meal or once a week, so accessibility and flexibility is important in fitting into pet parents’ (and pets’) habits. We make sure retailers, as well as our brand ambassadors, are armed with that information and belief so that pet parents feel as though feeding raw is within reach.
In marketing across that total consumer journey, our website plays a critical role as a resource for pet parents. In conjunction with our packaging refresh, InstinctPetFood.com will be refreshed this summer and will include even more new content and education. Our learning center, Raw Starts Here, is a consumer-focused resource that simplifies the concept of feeding raw and really opens it up to fit many lifestyles and pets’ needs. To support real-time questions, our live chat offering at InstinctPetFood.com has also been a tremendously successful resource for consumers looking to learn more. Live chat is quite often used at the point of sale as consumers narrow down their selection and seek to find what’s best for their pets, so we’ll continue to make this available.
Our approach to consumer marketing is to engage with and empower pet parents along the consumer journey. We set out to awaken them to a better way to feed and to drive them into stores to learn more from the store environment or associates—often the place where they can really understand the power of raw nutrition on a deeper and more personal level. We approach our relationship with the consumer—and thus our marketing—holistically, and we try to ensure that we’re supporting pet parents in the right places at the right time with the right content.
PB: What does the future hold for Nature’s Variety?
Howlett: As Instinct—The Raw Brand, we will stay focused on our mission of transforming the lives of pets through the pure, real nutrition of raw. We’ll continue to innovate with our vision of redefining better in all that we do, with the goal of enabling pet parents to redefine better for their own pets, and we will remain unwavering in our commitment to bringing our belief in raw nutrition to everything we do. As a pioneer in raw pet food, the future holds continuous breakthrough innovation that marries the pinnacle of pet nutrition with the changing and evolving needs of pets and pet parents.