Last month, I came across an article on a major news website that excoriated the pet industry—and pet food and treat manufacturers, in particular—over the rise of what the author calls the "luxury pet food market." Describing the super-premium pet food segment as being ripe for "hucksters," the article strongly implies that many of the biggest trends in this product category—grain-free, raw, functional ingredients, etc.—are nothing more than slick marketing, with little in the way of science to back up claims of enhanced nutrition and health for our four-legged loved ones.
This is a very dangerous assertion for a $23-billion pet food market that heavily depends on emerging nutritional trends to drive growth—one that could very well inspire consumer backlash if it is echoed enough in the media. The most disturbing part is the author clearly crafted his position based on what appears to be very little research into the companies that are developing these products and often determine the way we feed our pets.
As someone who has had countless, in-depth conversations with the people behind some of the most progressive pet food lines, hearing their motivations and looking at the research that they put into formulating their products, I can say that I have yet to meet a huckster among them. Almost always pet owners themselves, they are overwhelmingly genuine in their interest in advancing the science behind animal nutrition and wholeheartedly believe in the products that they are putting on pet store shelves.
Of course, this is not to say that there are not bad characters in the marketplace; and as the pet food market continues to prove one of the most stable and profitable retail segments, there is always the risk that more will be drawn into our industry. This is where independent retailers have played—and will continue to play—a crucial role in inspiring confidence among pet owners by selling only foods that deliver more than a well-honed marketing proposition.
This means looking beyond high profit margins to ensure that products deliver true health benefits to the animals being fed—and that those benefits are backed by sound research into animal nutrition. It also means understanding important aspects of a food vendor’s manufacturing process by asking questions like, what are the ingredients? Why are they used? How are they sourced? Where are the foods actually manufactured? Is the product marketer really making the product, or is a third party being contracted to do the actual manufacturing? These questions, and more, should all be answered to the retailer’s satisfaction before a diet is brought into the store on even a trial basis.
Once armed with this vital information, retailers can assist their customers in deciding which approach to nutrition would be the best fit for their beloved pets and assure them that what can be found in their $80 bag of pet food is much more than a bunch of empty promises.