When it comes to pet food, there’s a ton of options for customers to choose from. Finding the perfect mixture that aligns precisely with a dog’s palate and nutritional needs, however, can become an expensive and time-consuming practice for pet parents. Thankfully, the trend toward pet food mixers and toppers is now changing the mystery behind mixing up daily feedings.
For David Leybovich, owner of Green Paws Pet Market, a single-door retailer located in Plantation, Fla., toppers are a helpful resource. When speaking with customers who have finicky pets, Leybovich recommends using toppers to entice the animals to eat their food, or as a method of adding nutritious ingredients to an existing diet—particularly as an introduction to raw or freeze-dried recipes.
“Mostly, people buy the toppers because the dogs are not eating what their current diet is,” says Leybovich. “Whether it’s a prescription diet or some dry food that the dog doesn’t have a taste for anymore, if they are eating the same food over and over again for years, they get bored and sick of it, so they want a new flavor or something a little different.”
Many pet parents consider creating their animals’ meals from scratch, yet with the busy pace of life, creating homemade dishes isn’t always possible. Through the use of mixers, pet parents are able to easily explore new recipes while serving different ingredients to identify their animals’ preferences, according to Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, LLC.
“Consumers are no longer viewing toppers and mix-ins strictly as something to entice finicky, older or infirm pets to eat; they’re seeing that these products can also be a tasty and economical way to customize meals with functional nutrition and other supplemental health benefits,” Hudson reveals. “Manufacturers have recognized the growth opportunities in this evolving category and are responding with a wider variety of choices.”
Of course, as the humanization trend in the pet goods market continues to expand, consumers are searching for products that reflect their own food preferences to enhance their pet’s quality of life. According to Lindsay Meyers, BS CVT, director of product development and veterinary channel for Primal Pet Foods, the role of family member places pets in a position where their preferences are considered and indulged.
“Human food trends continue to move toward healthful, less processed, natural and organic,” Meyers explains. “Pets are part of our family, and we want what is best for them. When pet owners are reluctant to completely change what they are feeding, an offer to enhance a pet’s current diet is more approachable and easier for pet owners to envision as part of their daily lives.”
This approachable of adding variety using mixers and toppers to expand an animal’s mealtime menu aligns with the shift toward the humanization of pets. As pet parents are planning their own meals, they are also considerate of their animals’ food preferences.
“Humans don’t eat the same food day in and day out, and neither should pets,” explains Keith Arnold, director of breakout innovation for Champion Petfoods. “That sentiment, combined with pet lovers wanting the best for their pets, is why the industry has seen an increase in the humanization of pet food.”
From a nutritional standpoint, pet parents that use toppers should choose products with wholesome recipes. Andrew Tippin, marketing manager of ZIWI, reports that the brand has seen extraordinary demand for pet food mixers and toppers, and consumers are searching for formulas that feature quality ingredients.
“High-quality pet food mixers and toppers can provide an additional boost in flavor and add variety to a pet’s diet to keep them excited in their meals,” Tippin says. “Mixers and toppers can also provide an additional boost in key essential nutrients like omegas, chondroitin and glucosamine, that may be lacking in their primary diet.”
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Within the pet food space, mixers and toppers will continue to gain momentum. Despite increased consumer reliance on e-commerce over the past year, the pet goods category will experience traffic through brick-and-mortar locations.
“This channel needs to differentiate itself from the online experience, which still struggles to deliver fresh and frozen foods effectively and profitably to the consumers doorstep,” explains Meyers. “By embracing fresh and frozen toppers—and diets—as featured items in their stores, local retailers are creating a reason for consumers to keep shopping with them, because the items offer both a nutritional and strategic advantage—we believe the future is very bright for this category.”
Blending nutrition with convenience will fuel the demand in the food mixer-and-toppers category, as pet parents seek greater customization of their animals’ meals. To promote these products within stores, retailers should understand each formula’s wellness benefits and how they will suit each pet’s needs.
“The trend for high meat, high-quality toppers will continue to grow as well as mixers and toppers that contain unique and novel proteins,” Tippin advises. “Retailers should prepare for these trends by supplying high-quality mixers and toppers and promoting them as an additional way to help pet parents build their bowl and improve the diet and nutrition of their four-legged family members.”
Though supplements will remain important to pet parents who seek to address or avoid specific health issues, owners will become increasingly interested in how mixing these additional food sources can provide vitamins and nutrients. As Hudson explains, these products can support pet health, such as skin and coat quality, bone and joint wellness, digestion regulation, and energy levels, but can also aid animals’ most-fundamental needs.
“Hydration is another important benefit that toppers and mix-ins can provide,” Hudson says.
As retailers accept more of these products into their stores to meet growing consumer demand, pet parents will seek guidance. According to Leybovich, his fellow retailers must reassure pet parents that they should allow their animals’ digestive systems to acclimate to new formulas.
“The most important thing is not to be scared because most of the toppers are raw or freeze-dried, and for dogs that are on a dry diet, it might be a bit rich for their bodies,” Leybovich explained. “In the beginning, it might give them a little loose stool, but it should subside. There are a variety of options to add as another topper such as pumpkin or freeze-dried pumpkin that will help with that.”
Through increased consumer education regarding the benefits of a wholesome diet, pet parents will increasingly choose to mix-in food that complements their animals’ typical meals. By offering a variety of different options, pets will enjoy the support of a more well-rounded diet.
“There is greater awareness about the benefits of feeding pets multi-protein food, and pet lovers are learning that meal toppers are a great way to achieve that mix,” explains Arnold. PB