The Top Trends in Dog & Cat Food
The selection of dog and cat food options on the market continues to evolve as consumers become increasingly educated about proper pet nutrition.
For pet specialty retailers, keeping up with the latest trends in dog and cat food can be a real challenge. Consumers’ preferences are constantly changing as they become educated on the latest science behind pet nutrition, with a particular focus on elements such as what is and isn’t in pet food, as well as where ingredients are sourced. As a result, the breadth and depth of selection in pet food aisles continues to grow to keep up with pet owners’ evolving demands—making it harder than ever for shoppers to navigate the category.
“There’s no doubt that pet parents’ needs are continuously changing,” says Jeremy Keil, who is responsible for sales and marketing for Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands, which manufactures Tuffy’s Pet Foods and others. “With so many options available to retailers and consumers, it’s difficult to know which foods are right.”
Keil adds that retailers’ best option is to carry a variety of foods, and that includes a range of premium grain-based options and super premium grain-free and holistic brands, as well as raw, freeze-dried, and dehydrated diets. “New buzzwords and demands pop up all the time,” he says.
Tuffy’s Pet Foods is introducing two SKUs in its grain-based diets, Beef & Rice and Trout & Rice. The brand is also adding to its grain-free options with a small/medium breed puppy and a large breed puppy food, as well as grain-free senior and weight management formulas. Tuffy’s is also expanding its small bites lineup with three new formulas—High Plains Select, Woodlands Select and Prairie Select.
Staying on Strategy
Of course, even with all of the changes taking place within the dog and cat food category, there are trends that have proven staying power—particularly when it comes to ingredient sourcing and diets tailored to a pet’s particular nutritional needs.
“We see trends from 2016 continuing into 2017 and well beyond,” says Brad Gruber, president and chief operating officer at Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y. “Demands in ingredients in pet food will continue to mirror the trends driven in human diets along with following consumer and social shopping habits such as premium ingredients, local sourcing, customized recipes, weight loss and variety.”
Also, pet owners are seeking out and buying special diets related to their pets’ allergies and sensitivities, such as premium proteins and grain-free foods.
Health Extension recently launched six grain-free 2.8-oz. canned cat foods that contain premium protein sources, are low in carbohydrates and include ingredients such as apple cider vinegar and coconut oil. Gruber says the launch came on the heels of last year’s introduction of three canned grain-free stews for dogs, with beef, turkey and chicken. “These grain-free stews have been one of the most successful launches we ever had,” he says.
The company is also launching its first large breed recipe, which was formulated as a complete and balanced food. The recipe is designed to help lower the risk of skeletal problems while helping the puppy cope with issues associated with rapid growth periods. The food will be available in one-. and 30-lb. sizes. In treats, the company is introducing its first Made in the USA whole-muscle jerky that is all natural and gluten free, made from real chicken, with no artificial preservatives, colors and flavors.
While consumers first and foremost want high-quality, healthful foods, they also want these diets to be affordable.
“Consumers are very educated when it comes to pet nutrition, they want a natural, grain free option with high quality ingredients—like a meat protein first—at an affordable price point,” says Scott Whipple, co-founder and co-owner of Canidae in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “This movement towards quality, healthy options that are budget-friendly continues to surge.”
Last year, the company launched Canidae Under The Sun, a budget-friendly, grain-free pet food option made with farm-fresh ingredients at the company’s own facility in Brownwood, Texas. It features potato-free recipes available in a variety of single-animal protein choices like lamb, whitefish and chicken. The large dog food bags retail for under $40 and large cat bags are under $25.
Even with pet food manufacturers catering to budget-conscious pet owners, pricing issues can still pose a major challenge for traditional pet stores, as competitive online sites often offer rock-bottom pricing and free shipping. That is where manufacturers can help with minimum advertised pricing (MAP) and minimum retail pricing (MRP) policies.
“We consider ourselves to be the independent retailer’s best friend, and accordingly, we’ve just stepped up our enforcement of MAP pricing with MAP TRAP, a sophisticated online price monitoring and enforcement software system,” says Gruber. “All in all, today’s retailer is going to have to ensure their pricing is competitive to the rest of the environment and look to add value to the pet parents’ shopping experience to drive them into their stores.”
While price remains a concern for some pet owners, many experts point out that these shoppers are increasingly focused on the overall value that premium nutrition will ultimately provide. “Consumers do understand the mentality that you get what you pay for and realize that purchasing good quality, wholesome food is an investment,” says Lucy Postins, founder and chief integrity officer of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego. “But they also understand that they’ll often save money in the longer run through reduced vet bills.”
Postins says what consumers really want is transparency. “Consumers increasingly want visibility into a manufacturer’s supply chain, to understand things like how animals are raised for meat, whether genetic modification is used in production of crops, how products are made,” she says. The Honest Kitchen provides retailers with online product training modules, video modules and in-person training sessions for staff. The company also offers a feeder program that allows store associates to try the foods with their own pets.
The Honest Kitchen is launching a line of single-serve cups. Each cup makes the equivalent of a 12-oz. can, but without the costs associated with shipping bulk, water weight and heavy packaging. Customers can make their own wet food that is also less heavily processed. Postins says the company is currently working on a line of instant bone broths inspired by ayurvedic health principles and some new supplements and treats.
Pet owners who want to prepare foods for their furry loved ones also want the task to be easy. With this in mind, New Zealand-based Ziwi (formerly ZiwiPeak) launched two recipes available in air-dried and canned versions. Blue Mackerel and Lamb for dogs and cats contains wild-caught New Zealand Blue Mackerel, which is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids— nutrients that are essential for healthy skin and coat, as well as supporting joint health. Tripe and Lamb for dogs contains cold-washed green tripe, a natural source of probiotics and beneficial enzymes to aid digestion and enhance palatability. The new recipes are free of grains, rice, corn, soy, wheat, sugars, artificial preservatives, GMOs, added hormones, antibiotics and rendered meats. The entire line has been rebranded with new packaging with the new Ziwi logo.
“The most important trend is continuing into high-meat, nutrient-dense, gently processed recipes,” says Mary Helen Horn, president, North America, at Ziwi Pets. “Now the trend is taking it out of the freezer and making it easier.” The food is shelf stable, and the pet owner does not have to add water.
Horn says retailers must continue to look for these new trends to remain competitive. “The days of competing with retailers only in your own zip code are over,” she says. “It is more important for our retailers to be able to open up to those new trends sooner rather than later.”
That includes many consumer preferences at once. “We see these desires manifesting in trends like natural products, clean labels, whole-food ingredients and diets that speak to the activity levels of individual pets,” says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn, based in Long Beach, Calif. Redbarn’s newest product is the Wildwood Stews line, created for dogs with sensitive stomachs and allergies, and featuring novel proteins like trout, duck and quail in gravy.
“We believe the most important trend in dog and cat food is providing options that cater to our customers’ pets,” says Cooper. “Adding functional superfood ingredients speaks to their desire for clean labels with easily understood ingredients.”