Pet owners who live a healthy, active lifestyle understand the importance of the food they choose for themselves, and they are applying the same or even greater level of care when choosing foods for their companions. This is partly driven by a clean-eating mindset and concerns for the potential negative impact some additives may have on the health of our pets. Elements like high-quality protein, life stage and breed-specific formulas, and superfood ingredients have proven to be highly important in the natural category. But even more influential are the health benefits tied to them, such as heart health, energy, weight management and gastrointestinal health. Consumers of natural products expect the same solutions as conventional products, but with the added confidence that what they are putting into their pet’s bowl really is the best choice for their long-term health.
We encourage retailers to consider an experiential-marketing approach to merchandising product sets with a large assortment of formats, consistent with what all of the data tells us that today’s consumer is looking for. Nulo’s Mix-It Meals™ program, for example, allows for highly engaging Planograms that contain elements like high-meat kibble, freeze-dried raw, bone broths and meaty pouches—allowing pet parents to create “dishes” such as Duck kibble with Freeze-Dried Lamb & Raspberries, hydrated with grass-fed Beef Bone Broth and topped with Wild Mackerel and Mussels. Imagine shoppers’ delight when they realize they can customize their pet’s meal with natural toppers in seconds on a budget that doesn’t break the bank.
We’ve seen incredible basket-build and productivity lifts in sets where we’ve activated our Mix-It Meal™ program. The average consumer does not realize they “need” the other elements besides kibble. It’s up to us to inspire them with a simple program that includes natural products—wrapped in a well-merchandised in-store experience.
We recently launched our FreeStyle™ Bone Broths in larger 20-fl.-oz. resealable pouches in three wholesome formulas—Hearty Beef, Classic Turkey and Home-Style Chicken. Our bone broths are 100% natural and kettle-cooked for up to 10 hours in small batches in a facility that also produces bone broths for humans. Consumers were first introduced to this product line through our single-serve packets, which are perfectly portioned for topping a meal. Our larger packaging option gives pet owners the ability to customize serving sizes and receive an even better value for these savory broths, which have become a pantry staple for their pets’ meals.
Additionally, we are excited to share that Nulo Hydrate™, a line of functional liquid water enhancers for dogs, has been expanded to include formulas for cats. Our goal with this product line is to provide a new wellness solution by focusing on the water bowl. Encouraging pets to drink more water can have many health benefits, and just a squeeze our water enhancers deliver exceptional flavor plus a nutritional boost with B-vitamins, electrolytes, and amino acids such as taurine and DL-methionine. Nulo’s Hydrate™ line includes several natural meat-based flavors in a shelf-stable format that doesn’t require refrigeration.
A key element of our product development strategy is fostering a culture of innovation that involves our key retail partners. Demand planning begins with an understanding of existing gaps in the marketplace and finding creative solutions that not only deliver productive SKUs, but also help drive new traffic into their stores. As retailers engage with our company, we focus on key priorities and try to bring ideas together in a collaborative way. Natural products are no exception to this process—but they challenge us to think outside the box for raw material sourcing, manufacturing capabilities and packaging design that will be differentiated in the market and add meaningful value to our product portfolio.
It is important to keep an open mind when merchandising natural foods, because they often won’t fit into traditional food categories. For example, Nulo’s Freeze-Dried Raw recipes were designed to have small, nutritionally complete pieces that are easy to feed alone, mix with other foods, or even as a treat. The ability to incorporate freeze-dried foods at all levels of feeding allows the products to be merchandised virtually anywhere in the store.
Adding clip-strips and endcaps within the primary kibble aisles can help to suggest a mixed feeding approach, while clip strips in sections like outdoor pet gear (backpacks, collapsible bowls, etc.) can suggest an on-the-go use for those getting ready to travel or embark on an outdoor adventure. For those owners who aren’t ready to commit to a diet overhaul, having small packages placed around the store can be an intriguing invitation to try it.
Finally, impulse-buy merchandizing near the front of the store is an easy conversation piece at the point of sale and a great way to increase exposure for all customers, including those who may have stopped in for natural treats or toppers.
Natural as a category has evolved from being heavily ingredient-focused to a much broader scope that considers how a food is processed. Raw-frozen, fresh-refrigerated, and freeze-dried foods are leaning into innovative technology and packaging to deliver nutrition to pets in new ways without the need to rely on traditional preservatives. This is a niche where technology and “natural” intersect and has potential to fuel exciting pet food and treat innovations for the next several years. Packaged facts forecasts U.S. retail sales of natural pet food through all channels to surpass $12.2 billion by 2022, accounting for about a third of the $36 billion market of U.S. pet food and treat sales. Natural pet products clearly have a strong foothold, and we find ourselves on the frontlines of innovation to drive this category forward.
Written By Heather Acuff, Ph.D., Director of Research & Development, Nulo.