The Natural Pet section at this year’s Global Pet Expo was a testament to just how far the natural movement has come in the pet world—it has worked its way into every product category carried in the pet retail market today. The aisles that were dedicated specifically to this trend hold everything from food, treats and toys to grooming products, cat litter, and clean-up and stain-removal products. And the segment continues to grow.
The momentum for the natural pet category began to build years ago. Cloud Star was baking one of the first mass-produced and reasonably priced natural, low-allergen pet treats, Buddy Biscuits, as far back as 1999. “At the time, some buyers didn’t understand the importance of feeding pets a natural and holistic diet,” says Melissa Lapidus, part of Cloud Star’s marketing team. “That attitude has clearly changed.”
Initially, one of the large drivers in the general consumer market was a growing concern among consumers about environmental issues. However, within the pet category, the growth of natural was helped along by two major factors that converged on the industry almost simultaneously: the pet humanization trend and the pet food recalls.
Kevin Donohoe, vice president of sales in the eastern pet division for Direct Source Special Products, which manufactures Aussan Natural cleaning products, says demand for natural pet products has risen sharply during the 10 years he’s been in the pet industry. “Consumers first learned about natural and organic for themselves, and now they are applying that knowledge for their pets’ overall health.”
As pets made their way out of the backyard and into the home, people decided they wanted the same traits in products for their animals that they demanded for themselves—including items made from natural ingredients and materials. Then the pet food recalls hit, causing a strong focus on health and safety. Consumers began looking more closely at ingredients labels to find products they could trust. Natural product manufacturers rose to the occasion. What had previously been niche products began to go mainstream. Consumers saw products made with natural ingredients and materials as safer for their pets. They learned how the slightly higher price tag that came with those better components had lead manufacturers to work hard at adding value to natural items.
Quality and safety remain deciding factors for many pet owners and have helped the category to sustain its high level of growth. “Pets are considered important family members, and just as people have become more concerned with their own health and wellness, they have become more aware of their pet’s well-being and want wholesome and natural options for their companions,” says Lapidus. “They are more conscious of product ingredients for both themselves and their pets.” That, she says, has led to more consumers learning about what health and wellness for their pet really means. They are reading product labels and working to educate themselves more than ever, which can only be a good thing for natural pet product manufacturers and the retailers who sell their products.
The Supply Chain
As pet owners work to self-educate, they are turning up reams of information on every step of the product creation process. This has had two results. First, it has led to the growth of eco-friendly, sustainable and recycled products, creating an umbrella category simply known as “green.”
The explosion of these green categories led some independent pet stores to specialize in these items as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. These retailers made quality and safety their key criteria when it came to product selection, offering pet owners their own guarantee that the products were right for their pets.
Second, it has created strong partner relationships throughout the supply chain. Retailers who are committed to natural products look to The Natural Pet section for new and innovative ideas that will increase their profits and product offering for their customers, explains Donohoe. In turn, companies like Aussan Natural are working to ensure the products they bring to market meet those benchmarks. As a result, every link in the supply chain has flourished.
Cloud Star is another company that thrives on its close relationship with its retailer customers. It uses feedback from its retailers to continually improve its product lineup. “We are constantly working on new products targeted toward the pet specialty market,” says Lapidus. At this year’s show, the company unveiled a new line of dog treats. “Many pet specialty retailers have asked us to build upon the wildly popular Wag More Bark Less line of bumper stickers, and I think everybody will be thrilled with what we have come up with—I know we are—for this unique line of dog treats.”
Looking forward, experts agree that the natural trend will continue to grow. They acknowledge, however, that it’s likely to change somewhat in the process. Already, the natural products category has become so large that natural can encompass a range of meanings—from simple, clean, easy-to-read ingredient lists to using un-dyed, natural fabrics. This is leading to subcategories within the greater trend.
The category has also become so pervasive that, for some consumers, natural alone is no longer enough of a selling point. When there are entire stores full of nothing but natural products, those items need additional selling points to help differentiate between options that are natural and offer the same basic purpose.
As new products continue to be introduced, the importance of additional benefits will only become more significant. The economy has also begun to factor into the picture, with manufacturers acknowledging there is a significant portion of the pet-owning public who see the value and importance of natural products but just can’t afford them.
“We are seeing more customers looking for value when it comes to natural options,” says Lapidus. As a result, many companies are working hard to bring down costs or offer lower-cost alternatives to their premium lines. “Customers do not want to sacrifice quality with the products they purchase for their pets, and they are learning that natural doesn’t have to mean more expensive.”
It’s likely that the range of price points within the natural product segment will continue to increase, leading to even more wide-spread adoption and a corresponding increase in demand.
Donohoe says he expects that will be the case so long as manufacturers continue to produce safe, healthy and price conscious products for those who want them. Indeed, when it comes to the natural category, it seems clear—this green category is going forward full speed ahead.