Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition in Pet Nutrition

Along with washing your hands, the importance of eating fruit and veggies has been instilled in most of us from a young age. While humans have the choice of carrying this concept into adulthood or disregarding it in the name of independence, pets don’t have the ability to make the call themselves, leaving owners with the responsibility of realizing the overall health benefits and incorporating them appropriately into a pet’s diet.

"Fruit offers a broad spectrum of vitamins and antioxidants and often offer a high bioavailability of immune support," says Brad Gruber, president and chief operating officer of Health Extension. "Vegetables, like fruit, are packed with vitamins antioxidants and minerals that help support a long healthy life for our pets."

Pet owners that skimp on including fruit and vegetables in their animals’ diets aren’t doing so neglectfully or intentionally—the importance of these colorful ingredients just isn’t always understood.

"[A] common misconception is that our carnivorous companions don’t need any produce," says Lindsay Meyers, BS CVT, product development and veterinary channel manager for Primal Pet Food. "While it’s true that their main source of calories and protein should come from meat, it’s also true that the fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients in fresh veggies can still be beneficial to their health. Wild cats and dogs chew and eat grasses and other fibrous material often as a source of fiber. I like to say, ‘cats eat their veggies for stool, not for fuel.’"

In addition to nutritional benefits, finicky pets can benefit from the added flavor that produce can provide, as "the inclusion of fruit and vegetables may also improve palatability for the pet," explains Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Food.


Learning the Ropes

With fruit and veggie-based foods often being left out of the pet feeding equation, it’s up to retailers and their staff to educate themselves about the products so they can pass that knowledge on when people seek it out in stores.

"Retailers should have a good working knowledge of the products they sell," says Nieman. "That insight can then translate to better sales on the store floor. It’s also important for retailers to ask the right kind of questions to have a better understanding of where the customer is coming from, what foods they may previously have fed, if the pet has any unusual or special needs and what they are hoping to achieve."

Once the basics of what a customer is seeking out is understood, retailers can then take the next step to explain the importance of including fruit and veggies in order to help pet parents find a food that will be the best fit for their pet(s) and realize the many benefits.

"Consumers need to be aware that adding these ingredients to a dog’s diet can be extremely beneficial," says Gruber. "A retailer’s staff has to have the ability, skills and knowledge to direct pet owners in what products are best for their own particular pet through the proper series of questions."

That knowledge can be procured through independent research, but pet retailers shouldn’t think they’re alone in that endeavor. Manufacturers often have informative guides and other educational materials that they’re more than happy to provide (complementary!) in order to get their products flying off the shelves.

The basic concept that retailers should understand is that, "incorporating fruit and veggies... not only enhances the flavor, but also provides an added nutritional benefit for dogs, as they contain many essential vitamins and nutrients," says Patrick McGarry, chief operating officer of Gott Pet Products, parent company of Charlee Bear. "While low in calories, they provide an excellent source of protein and fiber, and can help reduce inflammation, promote a healthy gut and aid in digestion. Additionally, fruits and veggies contain antioxidants and can add a feeling of fullness for pets that always feel hungry."

Just as it is with any aspect of pet care and nutrition, it’s not a static field. It’s evolved as a pet’s status in the home has grown, and new information is constantly coming out that helps consumers tailor their pets’ diets, meaning that retailers have to be on top of the industry’s latest and greatest in order to keep up with the times.

"Things like environment, breeding practices and lifestyles have changed making it a more complex task to keep our pets healthy," says Gruber. "Retailers should keep themselves educated on these changes and the research that proves fruits and veggies can be beneficial. The more knowledge a retailer has about nutrition, ingredients and product development, the better of a resource they become to their customer in a time when transparency and holistic health are valued so greatly."

That said, retailers can’t get hung up on the minute details and start looking for brands that include every ingredient that’s healthy for pets. Instead, pet food should be chosen based upon the health benefits for the bigger picture.

"Diet should be formulated for nutrients, not specific ingredients," says Nieman. "A complete and balanced food for your pet must meet specific nutrient requirements. This means the food may include the addition of fruits and vegetables, which offer a number of beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants."


Successful Selling

With the variety of merchandising and market tactics, retailers should, at a minimum, "offer training and merchandising that helps educate, drive revenue, drive a variety of options to clearly communicate benefits and prioritize transparent ingredients," says Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets.

One of the most helpful merchandising tools is an inherent part of the fruit and veggies themselves: their colorful nature.

"I think it’s much easier for a consumer to see and value the benefit of fresh fruits and veggies when it’s something that is tangible," says Meyers. "A few extra produce ingredients in a kibble ingredient list is not the same as your customers adding a vibrant green or orange whole food topper to their pets’ meals."

Still, the tried and trues shouldn’t be disregarded, as the value of informative, eye-catching signage and other educational materials can provide.

"Retailers can highlight the importance of fruits and veggies in pets’ diets by displaying proper signage in aisles that lists the many benefits these ingredients provide," says McGarry. "Shelf talkers and brochures can also be helpful when promoting these ingredients and educating customers."

To accomplish this, retailers should get creative with their marketing and merchandising techniques in order to draw customers in and capture their attention with out-of-the-box ideas.

"Beyond the usual samplings, end caps, displays and signage, retailers can set up a mini fruit and vegetable market in the store tied into those products that carry these ingredients," says Gruber. "Setting up ‘farm-to-table’ displays convey the message best since so many of today’s consumers look for the same path and the same link with their own foods. [Retailers] can do this by working with local farmers or produce merchants to help in the messaging and display process."

Drawing the line between the benefits fruit and veggies provide for both humans and animals will further assist helping customers incorporate these offerings into their pet’s diet.

"We shouldn’t underestimate our customers," says Meyers. They understand the benefits of whole fresh foods for themselves, and they’ll certainly understand that for their pets."  PB