PetAge_Cover_Oct14

Less Ingredients, Careful Marketing Create Big Win

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Natural pet treat ingredients are becoming simpler while the marketing for them has become more elaborate.

Some walk the line between nutritional supplement and culinary sensation, but they all have a specific purpose and are designed for active training, supplemental feeding, or the favored “just because I love you” gourmet treat. 

“Good nutrition is the single most important factor in promoting longevity and quality of life for your pet,” Marie Moody, founder of Stella & Chewy’s, said.

This could account for why the U.S. market for natural pet products is projected to grow 32 percent in 2013, as retailers devote more shelf space to manufacturers’ specialty channels, according to Packaged Facts.

The robust sales of natural pet treats present unique marketing opportunities for boutique pet stores. Many of which are now offering pet treat samplings at “yappy hours” and as giveaways to draw people into booths at special events, which drive sales and encourage customer loyalty.

But, to really capitalize on the success of all-natural treats, it’s important to understand the ever-changing consumer, who is taking the time to learn, and care about their pet’s food, just as much as they would about their own.

“Providing the best possible product for pets not only nourishes the health and well being of the animal, it nourishes the relationship between pet and parent,” Rob Cadenhead, vice president of sales and marketing for Spring Naturals, said.

Pet owners are turning to raw, grain-free and locally-sourced treats as they look to be more eco-friendly in their overall life.

Whole Life Pet was one of the first to take consumer concerns to heart.

“We pioneered the concept of Farm to Friend,” John Gigliotti, founder of Whole Life Pet, said. “Our freeze-dried treats are made in our own state-of-the-art facility in western Massachusetts. Our treats are human-quality, hormone-free, free range and organic meat – guaranteed.”

WYSIWYG (pronounced whizzy-whig) is the buzzword that encompasses what pet owners seek out in pet treats. Meaning, what you see is what you get, consumers want treats that are nutritious, functional, all-natural and preservative-free.

Functional ingredient combinations that focus on “super fruits” (such as blueberries), meat-only treats (particularly for carnivores like cats), and simple, highly-nutritious ingredients are also important to consumers.

Barksters from Loving Pets boasts nine healthy varieties that consists of flavor combinations of beef, liver or chicken with alfalfa, brown rice or sweet potato.

“We find more and more that pet-parents are reading the ingredients on each treat’s package,” Eric Abbey, president of Loving Pets, said. “So promoting our simple, all-natural ingredients like fresh meats, fruits and vegetables are very important to us.”

Many companies are also creating specialty treats to assist in resolving problems, including joint rescue or active dog training.  Treats that include antioxidants, glucosamine, or vitamin supplements are now popular to both reward pets as well as act as dietary supplements.

Environmentally conscious owners are actively seeking out dog and cat treats that utilize recycled materials, sustainable resources and fair-trade ingredients.

“People want to know where their pet’s food and treats are coming from,” Lucy Postins, founder of the Honest Kitchen, said. “We always choose sustainability over cost. Our free-range chicken and line-caught wild haddock, fair-trade quinoa, non-genetically-modified produce and recycled, compostable packaging.”

Pet food and treat manufacturers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact packaging has on their success. Treats in packaging that supports freshness and ease of use are important. Resealable packages made of recycled materials, and ease of display is nearly as important as what is inside the package.

“Each package of Barksters features a distinctive die-cut bone-shaped box for excellent merchandising, and contains a resealable inner treat bag, guaranteeing freshness and the ultimate air-popped crunch,” Abbey said.

Independent retailers are taking advantage of this trend by showcasing holistic, grain-free all-natural treats in separate sections within the pet treat aisle. They are also spending the time and money needed to educate their employees on the health-promoting benefits to the pet as well as customer affordability. The goal is to offer solution-oriented products that are good for pets’ health as well as the consumer’s pocketbook.

“Every dog’s needs are different, so engaging with the consumer and asking some key questions about their pet is very important,” Abbey said. “Do their pets have any food allergies, health issues, dietary restrictions, etc?  This will help independent retailers offer solution-oriented products that are a win-win for everyone.”
Educating consumers and listening to the individual challenges they have with their pets will help guide customers to the best treat for that animal.

“Your staff is very important,” Elizabeth Pfeiffer, manager of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, said. “Our employees’ focus is on solutions for pets rather than the trend of the week. We are always seeking to learn more about pet nutrition and share what we have learned with our staff.  We invest in our employees with ongoing training by bringing experts into the store to explain the benefits of their products.”

- Stacy Mantle is a freelance writer who has covered the pet industry for nearly 16 years.

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