You are what you eat.
That saying has become a cliché in American culture, thanks to a book of that same title written by Dr. Victor Hugo Lindlahr, a pioneering health-food advocate. Today, over 70 years later, Lindlahr’s words still ring true.
“Healthy, all-natural foods made with ingredients you find at a fresh market aren’t a miracle cure for disease or poor health, but we know that diets based on these foods give us our best chance for long-term health,” David Yaskulka, vice president, marketing communications for Halo, Purely for Pets, said.
As any pet retailer knows, what happens in the pet market closely mirrors what happens in the human market.
“Our pets are part of our families, and we care what they eat in terms of nutrition,” Anthony Burrus, marketing and social media coordinator, Blackwood Pet Food, said.
People are becoming more educated on the benefits of healthy diets and staying away from processed foods, and because of that they want the same thing for their pets. All-natural dog foods provide many of the things pet owners are looking for, including wholesome ingredients, methodical cooking processes and targeted recipes for specialized diets.
It’s no wonder the category is experiencing phenomenal growth.
According to the 2014 survey by the American Pet Products Association, use of natural dog food has doubled in the past decade, and 18 percent of dog owners reported buying natural foods within the past year, up 5 percent from the 2012 survey.
Experts say with the plethora of new products available, this is a category that will continue to grow.
“Pet parents are going to keep getting more savvy and sophisticated in terms of what they’re feeding their pets,” Yaskulka said.
Across the board, what makes all-natural dog food stand out from other processed foods is the list of ingredients. Manufacturers of all-natural dog foods know that their customers want to feed their dogs the same high-quality foods they eat themselves, so on each bag or can a customer picks up they will see proteins such as chicken, salmon and white fish, whole grains and fruits and vegetables including blueberries, green beans and zucchini.
Each brand has its own favored ingredients, and even the different diets have their own recipes, but the priority is creating foods that are free of rendered animal-part products and fillers.
“This is a great opportunity for independent pet retailers,” Yaskulka said. “Rather than just relying on the pretty packaging, more customers are reading the ingredient label, and it’s the retailers and their associates that can help the customers understand the ingredients and the benefits they bring to the dogs.”
All-natural dog foods aren’t a passing fancy. Many of the brands have been around for decades, and are continually tweaking the recipes and improving the formulas.
The Nutro Company launched a new and improved formula for its Natural Choice brand, with an optimal balance of complex carbohydrates and more whole grains. Whole grains not only provide fiber for optimal digestion, they also help with vision, bone development and metabolism.
For the cost-conscious consumer, Blackwood is introducing the Adirondack brand that will be a premium dog food but not as pricey as super-premium foods.
“We wanted to make all-natural dog food accessible for people who are looking to take good care of their pets,” Burrus said.
This line of all-natural, dry dog food uses chicken and white fish for its protein sources, but also has some pork mixed in for something different.
Whether it’s due to increased sensitivity in dogs or a heightened awareness with consumers, one of the newest trends in all-natural dog foods are grain-free recipes.
The important thing to remember with a grain-free diet is to still provide the fiber and carbohydrates that dogs need for a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Within the past couple of years some of the new grain-free products on the market include Blackwood’s grain-free dry food made with buffalo meal, white fish and field peas; Halo’s grain-free diets made with chickpeas; Nutro’s Natral Choice grain-free dog foods made with a variety of proteins and potato and Wellpet’s Wellness CORE grain-free recipes that include 12 varieties made with chickpeas and lentils.
According to Chanda Leary-Coutu, a spokesperson for Wellpet, an estimated 8 million dogs and cats are affected by food sensitivities or allergies. These pet owners often seek out all-natural pet foods to reduce the allergens in their dog’s life.
In order to meet the needs of these pets, the company created its Wellness Simple line of limited-ingredient dog foods to meet specific needs.
“We have developed recipes that have less common protein sources for pets with protein allergies such as duck, wild boar and rabbit, turkey and lamb,” Coutu said.
It’s not just dogs with allergies that need specific foods.
The obesity epidemic facing pets has many of them suffering from arthritis and cardiovascular problems. Halo introduced a grain-free, healthy weight formula for consumers looking to help improve their dog’s health.
Life stage recipes are also sought-out by consumers, and Natural Choice offers a new young adult formula with a mix of nutrients for dogs as they continue to grow and develop past the puppy stage.
For retailers to capitalize on the growth of this category it is important to stock what your customers are looking for and help raise awareness of the benefits of these products.
For example, Halo has a relatively new vegan dog food, which they created for people who want to have a dog but don’t want to bring any meat products into their home.
“We don’t recommend devoting a lot of space to this product, but in areas where there is a growing vegan population we’ve found a great deal of success,” Yaskulka said.