The secret is out. No longer reserved only for racing and sled dogs, raw pet diets are gaining a reputation for offering a host of health benefits that can improve the quality of pets’ lives and reduce the number of visits they make to the vet. But for pet specialty retailers, the benefits of selling raw food made not be so immediately apparent. Selling these products presents a number of challenges—from freezer and space requirements to the learning curve these products demand of store staff.
Still, raw food companies say that with so many pet owners embracing the trend, independent retailers have much to gain by joining the raw movement—and many already have. With some guidance from manufacturers and the proper preparation, it is a product category that can boost the bottom line for the growing number of retailers that are appropriately investing in it.
“Raw pet food has led the fast growth of the natural category within the pet food market,” says Eric Emmenegger, senior manager for the Instinct brand at Nature’s Variety. “It is the fastest growing segment and is becoming available at more and more retailers every day. There is an increasing awareness among pet parents regarding the benefits of raw, and they are sharing positive experiences with others in all kinds of forums.”
According to manufacturers, a healthy number of independent pet specialty retailers have responded to this trend by seizing the opportunity to tap into the category’s sales potential. Janice Rizzi, president of Radagast Pet Food, Inc.—makers of the Rad Cat Raw Diet—says the commitment these stores are making to raw food sales is further driving demand. “[The category] has really been driven by the independent retailers,” she says. “They are the ones that have come to acknowledge and accept that this is a really viable part of the market.”
For a round-up of some of the raw diets available on the market today, scroll down or click HERE.
Still, while the category has gained momentum, many independent retailers have yet to start selling a comprehensive raw-food assortment. And retailers that are considering entering the fray have to clear a few hurdles before they can reap the sales rewards these products offer.
The most obvious hurdle—and the most costly—is obtaining the equipment to house a raw assortment. While there are shelf-stable products in the category, many raw foods need to be kept frozen to stay fresh and safe to eat. The initial investment can be a substantial one, depending on a retailer’s level of commitment to the category. Retailers have to consider the cost of the freezer, as well as how much space they can devote to the category and the sales per square foot it can potentially achieve versus other categories. Stores also need the infrastructure necessary to keep the freezer—or freezers—running.
“The big evolution for retailers is realizing that there are power requirements,” Rizzi says. “Freezer storage is a huge premium. You are seeing more stores going from household 20-cubic-foot freezers—your typical garage freezer—to glass-door freezers to walk-in freezers to multi-panel applications. You are seeing more stores with 10 to 15 freezers, and they are making it much more prominent than in the past.”
Of course, having the right freezer setup to suit the business and its customer base can make the difference between making a successful foray into the category or orchestrating a money-draining flop. “You don’t want to have a freezer that breaks down and is going to have problems, because you don’t want product to thaw,” Rizzi says. “You really have to get the right equipment.”
Once the freezers are installed, maintenance needs to be a priority for retailers, points out Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education of Bravo!, which manufacturers an assortment of frozen and freeze-dried raw products.
“It falls to the retailer to be sure the freezers are set to the right temperature and that they service those freezers regularly to keep them functioning properly,” she says. “This includes checking the seals to keep the cold air in and making sure the thermostat is working correctly.”
The More You Know
Raw food sales, however, are not only dependent upon the freezer and shelf-space devoted to it. The category, perhaps more than most, requires retailers to have a deep understanding of the products and how they may benefit some animals. “We believe you cannot effectively sell raw until you know raw, so we stress education as an effective tool to all of our retailers,” Schubert says.
While there are many raw pet food enthusiasts already out there, the concept is still new for many dog and cat owners. Retailers, however, can be instrumental in closing the information gap for potential raw customers. Education is particularly critical to sales in this category, since many pet owners harbor concerns about the handling of raw meats and may reject the concept based on those concerns.
Bruce Flantzer, senior vice president of sales for MiracleCorp Products, makers of Stewart brand pet food, says perceptions about safety still plague the category.
“The biggest misconception is that raw diets put your pet at a higher risk of harmful bacteria than commercially processed foods—that is not true,” Flantzer says. “Commercially processed pet foods can contain harmful bacteria, just as the raw meat offered for human consumption. You should treat raw pet food in the same manner as you treat your own—store it properly and sterilize areas that come into contact with [it].”
Even shelf-stable products need some TLC when it comes customer education and merchandising, says Maggie Johnson, co-owner of Sojos, which makes shelf-stable, freeze-dried raw food mixes. “Don’t just stick them on the shelf next to regular mid-quality kibble,” she says. “These things don’t just sell themselves quite yet. They deserve to be talked about and explained. Investing in consumer understanding will create loyal users of premium high-quality products.”
Still, in order for retailers to educate their customers, they have to get up to speed themselves—fortunately, it is a simple enough task, according to Johnson, who says manufacturers provide plenty of information and tools to guide retailers past the learning curve. And retailers armed with accurate information about raw foods may not have to launch the hard sell to get customers to come on board.
“The benefits of raw don’t need to have an exaggerated spin because you just can’t get any healthier than uncooked whole foods, so nutritional understanding is very simple and straightforward.”
Nature’s Variety’s Instinct Raw Bites (InstinctPetFood.com) is a frozen raw diet that offers the same convenience of kibble in a familiar scoop-and-serve form of feeding. Offered in seven proteins, the product can go straight from the freezer into a pet’s food bowl, thawing in minutes. Raw Bites complete and balanced raw meal options are available in Chicken, Beef, Duck, Lamb, Rabbit, Venison and Organic Chicken, and in a variety of convenient sizes. Each is formulated to contain 95-percent meat, organs and raw ground bone, with wholesome fruits and vegetables.
Steve’s Real Food Nuggets (stevesrealfood.com) offers the premium nutrition that a raw diet offers in convenient pour-and-serve nuggets. They can be fed frozen or thawed making it as easy to feed as kibble. The complete and balanced diets—available in Beef, Chicken, Turkey and Turducken—do not contain synthetic additives. The products use natural ingredients, such as coconut oil, and are packaged in eco-friendly compostable bags or 100-percent post-consumer waste boxes.
Sojos Complete Dog Food (sojos.com) is a shelf-stable, grain-free formula that users combine with water to create fresh, homemade food. One pound rehydrates to five pounds of fresh, raw food. It is made with USDA freeze-dried raw turkey or beef and contains other all-natural, whole-food ingredients. It does not contain fillers, preservatives, artificial flavorings or colors. It is also grain and gluten free.
Stella & Chewy’s Absolutely Rabbit (stellaandchewys.com) is the newest addition to its exotic dinners line. Absolutely Rabbit is a 100-percent complete and balanced dinner, available in two sizes of freeze-dried, 6 oz. and 16 oz., and two sizes of frozen, 3 lb. and 6 lb. The company’s line includes: Stella’s Super Beef, Chewy’s Chicken, Duck Duck Goose, Dandy Lamb, Surf ‘N Turf and Simply Venison. They contain no grains, gluten, fillers or artificial preservatives.
Stewart Raw Naturals (stewartpet.com), by MiracleCorp, provides complete nutrition for every stage of a dog’s life. The formulas consist of whole meat, fruits and vegetables, and they are cold-process pasteurized to retain the natural vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Fresh to Home Recipes are nutritionally dense and do not contain fillers, allowing the body to use more of these vital nutrients while eliminating less. Stewart Raw Naturals raw frozen food is available in six varieties: beef, chicken, turkey, bison, lamb, and chicken & salmon.
Bravo! Healthy Bites and Bravo! Medleys freeze-dried treats (bravorawdiet.com) are formulated with the high-fat content cats need and crave. Bravo! Healthy Bites are made from 100-percent muscle meat, while Bravo! Medleys are made from 100-percent muscle meat, hearts, livers and gizzards. Both are made in the USA from antibiotic- and hormone-free poultry and fish. They contain no additives or preservatives. Offerings for Bravo! Health Bites include chicken breast, turkey breast and salmon. Bravo! Healthy Medleys are available in chicken, turkey and a mariner’s medley—a combination of salmon, cod and shrimp.
Rad Cat Raw Diet (Radfood.com) is a raw, free-range and organic frozen diet for cats. All Rad Cat varieties are complete diets that are grain and vegetable free, and cater to cats’ simple, focused taste. Rad Cat offers a ‘whole foods’ approach, with minimal processing and no fillers or additives. Each recipe is made from a single protein source from animals sustainably raised in the USA, and all meats are USDA inspected, hormone and antibiotic-free. Rad Cat’s packaging is convenient and completely recyclable. The stackable containers with distinctive labeling display well on freezer shelves and conveniently fit into freezer doors—a benefit for stores that need to economize freezer space.