Coconut Skyrockets in Popularity

The vast array of supplements available on the market can easily overwhelm even the savviest of pet enthusiasts. While most pet owners understand the advantages that supplements like fish oils and glucosamine offer to pets, not as many are aware of the many benefits of coconut oil.

Coconut oil received a bad rap in the early ‘90s due to its high level of saturated fat. While virgin coconut oil contains 90 percent saturated fat, it has proven to be very beneficial to humans for everything from heart disease to bolstering immunity due to its unique string of medium-chain fatty acids. Since most of the saturated fats in coconut oil come from medium-chain triglycerides, coconut oil is considered an easily digestible source of energy.

And now the pet industry is seeing it become a major trend in helping to keep pets healthy, too.

“Coconut oil is rapidly gaining recognition because of its unique health benefits,” Ryan Phillips, COO of Wholistic Pet Organics, said. “Besides giving your pet a beautiful, glossy coat due to its high fat content, coconut oil contains lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid that can help combat bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Lauric acid, most commonly found in ‘mother’s milk,’ also helps support the immune system. Our unrefined, virgin coconut oil is not treated with chemicals or exposed to high heat, which makes it richer in phytonutrients and polyphenols, [which act as antioxidants in the body] than refined coconut oil.”

The Tree of Life

Nearly every part of the coconut can be utilized in the animal industry. ZooMed utilizes the husks of coconuts into its Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate. This results in an eco-friendly product that can be safely composted and recycled into potted plants or gardens. It is ideal for setting up naturalistic terrariums, naturally breaks down odors and is safe for most reptiles.

Many report that a very light application of coconut oil can help resolve issues like fungal infections or cuts in reptiles prone to skin conditions. This is also particularly helpful when an animal is shedding.

Others report that tiny amounts of coconut oil can assist in gut load.

According to Phoenix-based Tropic Zone, coconut water is a common supplement among bird enthusiasts. Parrots and other birds also enjoy the benefits of coconut when it comes to playtime.

Also, according to Tropic Zone, the shell of a coconut can be cut and drilled, then strung with other toys to help encourage play.

Crunchy pieces of coconut can help alleviate boredom while promoting dental health and keeping pets entertained with unique textures.

“CocoTherapy Coconut Chips are a rich source of dietary fiber, making it a great supplement for dogs with sensitive digestive tracts, such as those suffering from IBB or colitis,” Carmina O’Connor, co-founder of CocoTherapy, said. “We’ve heard from many pug owners, whose pets have had anal gland problems, that CocoTherapy oils and chips have virtually eliminated problems with impaction. Our Coconut Chips are designed for maximum digestibility, while providing all the beneficial nutrients from medium-chain fatty acids.”

Use In Pet Foods

Because of coconut’s many benefits, the industry is beginning to see it appear in pet foods.

Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, said they have been incorporating coconut oil and the flesh of coconuts into their food and treats since early 2006.

“Many of the benefits discovered in humans can also be translated to pets,” she said.

Other pet food companies are also taking advantage of this super food.

“Dogs and cats need fat in their diet,” Matt Koss, founder and president of Primal Pet Foods, said. “Medium-chain triglycerides are difficult to find in nature, but they offer a substantial benefit that delivers a unique saturated fat. We use 100 percent organic virgin coconut oil in our raw, frozen and freeze-dried line of Formulation products.”

They are also quickly being a favored addition to treats.

“Dogs, like people, can run out of energy while exercising,” Chris Meiering, director of marketing for Zukes, said. “By including coconut oil in our Power Bones, our treats provide a source of sustained energy before, during and after an activity. This one nutritious treat gives dogs all the healthy energy they need to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle.”

In 2013, Party Animal launched its Cocolicious line of dog food The product is available in six flavors, ranging from Organic Chicken & Beef to Lamb & Wild Caught Salmon.

“Coconut oil has gained mainstream awareness for its health benefits in humans, and it’s now time for animals to benefit from this amazing, nutritious ingredient,” Daryl Abrams, founder and CEO of Party Animal, said.

Medium-chain fatty acids are added to most baby formulas, even those designed for dogs and cats. Wysong Mother’s Milk is one such formula that is designed to mimic the complex formula of lactating animals, utilizes coconut oil as a source of MCTs.

Coconut As a Super Food

Coconut oil is a neutraceutical that contains natural antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial properties. In pets, it can soothe cracked paws, reduce arthritic pain and decrease inflammation. Since coconut oil is primarily composed of medium-chain fatty acids, it is also beneficial for increasing metabolism and supporting weight loss.

Coconut oil naturally contains caprylic acid, which has been proven to help combat yeast infections and support natural ear and skin health. It naturally contains digestive enzymes and probiotics to support good digestive health.

MCFA, which naturally occurs in coconut oil, has also been found to be effective in preventing parasites, such as Giardia and protozoa. When applied topically, injuries heal much more quickly and its natural antiviral component can help disinfect abrasions.

– Stacy Mantle

Understanding Natural Medicine for Pets

The pet care industry has seen tremendous growth in the markets of natural and alternative medicine.

Just as alternative veterinary care increases, retailers can expect a surge in over-the-counter solutions. While most over the counter solutions are very effective in preventing and solving minor problems, it will still be important for retailers to encourage customers to consult with a professional. In order to do this, retailers should have a basic understanding of the various modalities.

East Meets West

Western medicine and Eastern medicine have always been at odds. While Western medicine tends to be largely “reactive,” Eastern medicine is focused on being “proactive” in order to stop issues early.  For this reason, it may be tempting to view traditional and holistic treatments as rivals, but they are actually quite complementary.  A holistic approach allows practitioners to focus on supporting overall health rather than treating a disease.

“I’m seeing more of an acceptance of allowing traditional doctors like myself to recommend a more holistic approach to medicine,” Dr. Jeff Werber, owner of Century Veterinary Group, said. “New certification programs in chiropractic medicine and laser modalities are becoming very popular.”

Dr. Lisa S. Newman, N.D., Ph.D. founded Azmira Holistic Animal Care in 1982, and has become well known for resolving health problems in pets that modern medicine could not cure. Utilizing proprietary blends of herbal extracts, she has created a line of products directed towards resolving specific problems in pets and offers a line of supplements.

“Even with the best quality, balanced diet, nutritional supplementation is necessary to provide many nutrients now missing from our food chain,” she said.

Other natural supplements are joining the marketplace, including the new award-winning, all-natural line of canine liquid vitamins LICK’s liquid vitamin drink supplement, which boasts a 98 percent absorbency rate. The supplements are available in three forms, Zen for calming pets, Joint & Heart for maintenance and Athlete for active dogs.

Zuke’s line of Hip Action treats offers over 300 mg of Glucosamine and 50 mg of Chondroitin in easy-to-feed treats that pets love. Zuke’s treats also include other herbs, such as rosemary, to support whole food antioxidants.

Healthy Dogma is another example of a company focused on natural health. Peaceful Pooch, a nutritional additive, uses kelp, melatonin, flaxmeal and passion flower to help a dog to relax without the problems of traditional medications.

Holistic Medicine

Holistic medicine is, in effect, taking a complete view of the patient before treating. This view may include things like the environment, behavioral patterns, genetics, levels of stress, and even the relationship between pet and owner, which is then used to develop a protocol with which to treat a pet.

When a holistic veterinarian sees a pet, they not only examines the physical aspect, but they looks at the pet’s complete history, including nutrition, emotional stressors, environment and behavioral history.

Holistic practitioners are primarily interested in the “why” is symptoms are presenting in order to cure the problem. Once they have a good idea of the problem, they will utilize the least invasive, most efficacious path to resolving the problem. These solutions may include a combination of therapies.

For example, a patient may require surgery and drug therapy from conventional medicine, but could also include a change in diet, chiropractic or laser treatment, acupuncture, and/or homeopathy. By focusing on the entire picture, and utilizing a wide range of therapies that are both supportive and reactive, veterinarians can treat both acute and chronic problems far more effectively.


According to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, “holistic (or Integrative) veterinary medicine is the examination and diagnosis of an animal, considering all aspects of the animal’s life and employing all of the practitioner’s senses, as well as the combination of conventional and alternative (or complementary) modalities of treatment.”

The premise behind homeopathy is that “like treats like.”  Developed in Germany nearly two centuries ago, homeopathic practitioners analyze their animal patients as individuals, and then utilize custom-developed treatments to bring the body into balance. Herbal and plant-based remedies are administered in tiny doses over a course of time.

For example, a substance that causes harm in a large dose may actually be helpful in a small dose. Homeopathic medicines are most often referred to as remedies and these remedies are created by specialists who use a careful process of dilution and succession.

Natural remedies, such as Bach Rescue Remedy, utilize a proprietary blend of herbs to help offset anxiety in pets. The original Bach Flower Remedies has been used on humans and animals for more than 80 years.

Patience is a virtue

“Natural may take a little longer, but it completely eliminates the source of the problem,” Dr. Adelia Ritchie, founder of DERMagic, said. “Corticosteroids reduce itching by reducing inflammation, but can do nothing about the underlying cause of the itch and can negatively affect nearly every organ in the body. DERMagic is safe, free from corticosteroids and is immediately effective at relieving itch, fighting fungal and bacterial infestations and promoting healing of affected areas.”

Thanks to organizations like the American Holistic Veterinary Medicine Association, traditional treatments are now becoming mainstream.  As pet owners realize the dividends of natural medicine, reatilers can anticipate many more veterinarians to embrace traditional medicine and greater innovation in pet foods, natural remedies and more innovation throughout the industry.

Quiet Tea from The Honest Kitchen is another example of innovation in action.

Absorption Corp Becomes Healthy Pet

Absorption Corp is now Healthy Pet, reflecting its focus as a pet products company.

The Healthy Pet brand has been used by Absorbtion for both cat and small animal proiducts, and will not become its corporate brand as well. Healthy Pet® will be an umbrella for all of the company’s pet products, with major category brands such as CareFRESH and Critter Care maintaining strong product visibility to ensure consumer familiarity and loyalty.

A new logo and website recently debuted to reflect the change and all other company contact points making the transition over the next 30 days.

“Since our acquisition by J. Rettenmaier & Söhne, we have defined our strategic course as a highly effective, consumer-oriented pet products company spanning all categories,” Ted Mischaikov, CEO, said. “2014 will see renewed innovation in our core small animal offerings along with entry in to the cat category with a line of exceptional natural fiber cat litters. As a platform for pet products, Healthy Pet will focus the global resources and expertise of JRS to effect significant growth.”

Healthy Pet, founded as Absorption Corp over 25 years  ago, is a multi-category pet product manufacturer and marketer dedicated to helping pets and their owners stay active, happy and natural. The company’s popular brands include ökocat, CareFRESH, Critter Care, Puppy Go Potty and Healthy Pet products as well as the Arm & Hammer line of small pet bedding under license.

“Healthy Pet is devoted to a holistic approach to pet care where the pet’s physical, emotional and ecological well being are balanced and enhanced,” Samuel Cohen, vice president of  marketing and sales, said. “The Healthy Pet brand is defined by a new and uniquely comprehensive approach to pet products built on three fundamental elements; active, happy and natural. Physically healthy pets are active, with the energy and strength to play with their human family members. Emotionally healthy pets are happy, finding fulfillment by practicing natural behaviors. Ecologically healthy pets live in natural, clean habitats and environments.”

Dental Hygiene Pays Dividends

Keeping a pet’s teeth clean can go a long way towards reducing veterinary bills.

Yet, few practice good dental hygiene for their pets. According to the American Veterinary Dental College, periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats. 

“Nearly 78 percent of dogs and 68 percent of cats over the age of 3 are diagnosed with some form of dental disease during their annual veterinary examination,” Dr. Ava Frick, DVM, CAC at Pet Rehab & Pain Clinic, said.

The good news is that these diseases are very preventable by simply practicing good oral hygiene. The better news is that the pet industry is making it very easy to do this.  From “doggy dental floss” to multi-purpose chew toys, dental health is a topic that all stores should explore with their customers.

Toys Designed for Teeth

Dental care can be fun for both pets and their owners, and it can be as simple as selecting the proper toys. Most dental toys serve the dual purpose of keeping pets entertained while massaging gums and cleaning teeth. The NutriDent line of products is just one example of dog dental care toys that, according to Nylabone, are clinically proven to be better than brushing.

Gumi dental toys, which are part of the Rolf C. Hagen DogIt line of products, perform several important dental functions. Each toy features special scrubbers to remove food and saliva, soft waves to massage and stimulate blood flow to the gum line, while providing a soft texture to encourage continuous play and to exercise jaw muscles.

Chew toys aren’t just for dogs these days.

PetStages also offers a line of toys designed for a cat’s dental needs.  These toys are created with unique netting that helps remove soft tarter, and will not unravel when chewed. Some toys even contain fibrous stalks of catnip to satisfy a cat’s natural desire to chew.

Bones and Chews

Perhaps the easiest way to endear your pet to teeth cleaning is through treats.

“A majority of dogs over the age of two have some form of dental disease which can cause discomfort and many other types of illness, but it often goes overlooked,” Chris Meiering, director of marketing for Zuke’s, said.

Zuke’s new line of Z-Bones offer a potato-based, grain-free chew that helps maintain dental hygiene by scraping and polishing pets’ teeth.

PetSafe’s new line of indigo Fresh Dental Chicken & Blueberry flavor treats are an easy alternative to the stress of brushing. These all natural, made in the USA chews are formulated on the biometrics of how dogs chew to promote cleaner teeth and fresher breath. Hexametaphosphate safely removes plaque and is proven to reduce tartar up to 80 percent, experts said.

“HMP binds with calcium in plaque allowing it to be carried away in the dog’s saliva, preventing the formation of calculus (tartar),” said Sarah Folmer, brand communications specialists for PetSafe, whose complete oral care line has been expanded to include indigo Fresh Gel, Biscuits and Sticks.

Rinses and Washes

Rinses and washes that can be used as a water additive are popular with both dog and cat owners. Using a proprietary blend of natural, holistic ingredients, Tropiclean Water Additive works fast to naturally reduce plaque and tartar without a toothbrush, an added bonus for cat owners who prefer to keep their hands away from sharp teeth.

PetzLife Oral Care Spray and Gel works naturally to help remove plaque and tartar on dogs and cats teeth, which also helps to control bacteria and bad breath. A proprietary blend of grapefruit seed extract and other natural ingredients, produce a safe and effective oral care maintenance program, especially for senior pets.

New to the market is Ark Natural’s BREATH-LESS Brushless Toothpaste and Fizzy Plaque Zapper.

Brushless Toothpaste chews are filled with the company’s patented StayC50 toothpaste. The chews also contain breath-freshening ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, clove and chlorophyll. The Plaque-Zapper contains enzymes that are activated by mouth saliva, which changes the pH level and deters the growth of oral bacteria.

“Pet owners simply empty a packet of Plaque-Zapper into a pet’s drinking water to help prevent dental decay, plaque, tartar and bad breath,” Susan Weiss, CEO of Ark Naturals, said. “It is odorless, tasteless and colorless and will not change a pet’s drinking or eating habits.”

Tooth and Gum Wipes

The step before brushing is wiping. Tooth and gum wipes, such as Earthbath’s Tooth & Gum Wipes, are pre-moistened towelettes that provide pet owners with a simple way to clean teeth and gums.

“Unfortunately many well-meaning pet owners overlook the importance of a regular program of dental hygiene for their pets,” Paul Armstrong, president of Earthbath, said. “People think that regular cleaning is a difficult process, but our new wipes simplify the job and provide an easy solution to keeping their pet’s teeth and gums healthy.”

Kissable doggie dental products, launched in 2006, use ingredients such as peppermint, aloe and pomegranate extract to help clean pets teeth.

While there is a ton of emphasis on the dental health of dogs and cats, natural dental care is also important for other animals like hamsters and rabbits.

Peter’s Chew Toy, by Marshall Pet Products combines two great treats in one, apple and wood. Plus, it contains all natural ingredients and has no dyes or preservatives. They also offer Peter’s Pine Cones, which are ideal for rabbits and other small animals to satisfy their chewing instincts. They, too contain no dyes, and are pesticide free.

– Stacy Mantle

Toys From Nature

Every day consumers are becoming more concerned for the health and safety of their pets. This is evident in the food they buy, supplements they purchase, and now, the toys they select.

In general, eco-friendly toys are durable products made from safe, nontoxic materials, and manufacturers continue to make eco-friendly toys, not only for the pets, but for the planet.

It’s part of a growing trend to satisfy the consumer who is not only worried about what their pet is putting in their mouth while playing, but also where that product came from and how it was made.

“The latest trends in natural pet products are items made from renewable and natural materials: hemp, bamboo, recycled and recyclable plastics, etc.,” Kristen Smith, brand ambassador of Planet Dog, said. “These products include both molded and plush toys, interactive and entertaining dog toys. People are trending more toward Made in the USA products as well.”

Planet Dog’s Orbee-Tuff line of products, which makes up 70 percent of their line, are all made in the USA from recyclable materials.

“All of these products provide a dog many hours of joyful fun, and when they are damaged, destroyed, or just ready for a new toy, they can be returned to Planet Dog at the end of their lifespan,” Smith said. “In addition, we capture all of the excess material in the manufacturing process, any new items that do not meet our quality-control standards, or any colors that are discontinued. We take all of this material and grind it up so it can be made into a new dog toy in our Recycled Line.”


P.L.A.Y., Pet Lifestyle And You, is a premium pet bedding and toy company. All of their beds are filled with their trademarked PlanetFill, which is a polyfiber made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

“Based on the success of our beds, we have launched a variety of plush toys, such as our Garden Fresh and Under the Sea lines, which can help reduce waste and use the same eco-friendly filler in them,” Deborah Feng, director of sales and operations of P.L.A.Y., said. “The nature of our products allow us to make the biggest impact by saving nonbiodegradable soda bottles that would otherwise end up in a landfill. We are a pretty young company, but by now, we have already helped save over one million plastic bottles through our PlanetFill filler.”

P.L.A.Y. said developing eco-friendly products has always been one of their key missions because it’s both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.

“It’s the right thing to do because climate change is real and we are consuming ever more resources and creating more waste,” Feng said. “We believe, as part of a thriving pet industry, we can make a meaningful, positive impact to our planet through what we do.”

Feng said it’s also the smart thing to do because an increasing number of consumers are more educated about the topic and are demanding or seeking eco-friendly products.

“Often it’s not the sole determining factor for purchase decision, but it does influence these customers’ impression of a product brand or a shop,” Feng said. “It has always been important for both manufacturers and retailers to listen to the voice of consumers, therefore the most obvious benefits of going with the right eco-friendly products is to better serve the needs of those customers.”

Honest Pet Products makes toys of durable hemp and wool. Their hemp products are handmade by disabled adults, and their wool products are handcrafted by impoverished women supporting their families.

Natural Brainteasers

In 1993, Nina Ottosson started her self-named company and traveled around in her van for 10 years, with a bed inside, educating people at dog shows.

“I showed dog owners how and why dogs need to activated mentally, both for fun but also to prevent behavior problems,” Ottosson said. “My philosophy is that a dog has four legs and one head, and all five need exercise and love but in different ways.”

Ottosson developed all of her toys and games herself with her dogs in real life and not by a computer; they also work for cats, ferrets, parrots, rabbits, pets of all kind.

“Since my dogs, as well as other dogs, eat food and treats out of my puzzle games and toys, I have always had a very high standard for the materials,” Ottosson said. “I only use the best materials available, both in wood and plastic. The materials have to be nontoxic, very durable and user-friendly, and recyclable.

“My plastics are made with recyclable PE, PP and TPE. I am currently also testing them for FDA Food Grade. The plastic I use is splinter-free, which means that even if the dog breaks it, it will not be sharp and dangerous. My wooden products are made with certified MDF board, according to the tough CARB II standards, which means that no forests have been destroyed and no formaldehyde has been added in the process. This is a step above the E1 type of fiberboard which is most commonly used, which contains formaldehyde.”

Cat Food Sees Growth in Natural Category

Dog and cat food often get lumped together in a “pet food” category, but in many cases comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. When it comes to the natural food category, that’s even more the case.

While all-natural dog foods have been taking the market by storm with a wide variety of recipes and mixtures to meet the specific needs of dogs, whether it be for allergies, sensitivities or life stages, cat food options have been somewhat limited.

But, the natural, grain-free and specialty foods make up about 16 percent of all food purchases for cats according to the 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, and the numbers continue to grow. As a result, cat food manufacturers are pushing out new products to help increase sales and meet the growing demand of customers.

A prime example is grain-free cat food products. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they survive on a diet made up mostly of meat, which means many cat foods were already grain-free. But, with gluten-free diets becoming popular for humans, there are more grain-free products in pet foods surfacing as well, which means manufacturers are touting that benefit right on their labels.

Halo introduced a new Spot’s Stew Cats Grain-Free Healthy Weight Whitefish and Salmon product to answer two important consumer trends, grain-free diets and pet obesity issues.

“Our wet foods have always been grain free, but by introducing this new healthy weight formula in a grain free option we’re helping give consumers another option for feeding their cats that matches up with today’s trends,” David Yaskulka, vice president, marketing and communications for Halo, said.

Grain-free isn’t the only place where cat food manufacturers are expanding their offerings. In addition to the popular indoor formulas, all-natural cat foods now have other options for cats’ health.

Nutro’s Natural Choice brand includes formulas for weight control, hairball prevention and finicky eaters. Nutro and Blackwood also provide life stage formulas in their all-natural cat foods. Whether it’s a kitten, adult or senior formula, the products are made with the appropriate amounts of protein and fat for the energy level of the cat.

New Formulas

Manufacturers are constantly researching what’s best for cats’ health and re-working their products to make them better in many different ways. Both Nutro’s Natural Choice and Wellpet’s Wellness Complete Health have recently introduced new and improved formulas.

“In our new formulas, both wet and dry, we have really focused on meat first, to make sure we are meeting the fundamental needs of cats,” Preston Buff, chief natural nutrition officer for Nutro, said.

Wellpet’s new formulation includes meat, whole grains and fruits and vegetables along with supplements including antioxidants, Omega 6, Omega 3, probiotics and controlled ash and minerals.

“Our formula was designed to support urinary tract and celluar health in cats,” Chanda Leary-Coutou, communications manager for WellPet, said.

When it comes to formulating cat food, there’s more to consider than just wet or dry. Cats are notoriously finicky eaters. Some cats like soft food, others like chunky, and still others like to eat by lapping rather than biting and chewing.

When conducting research for their reformulated cat food product, experts from Nutro worked closely with researchers from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition.

“Our primary focus was to find what cats naturally want and need in their diets,” Buff said. “As a result we found that cats want a variety of textures and have introduced four different types of wet cat food products, soft, sliced, minced and chunky with gravy.”

Going Raw

In addition to texture, there’s also the temperature factor.

“When we decided to introduce a raw food especially for cats, we chose to do freeze-dried formulas first because many cats are sensitive to temperature,” Marie Moody, founder and chairman of Stella and Chewy’s, said. “By adding water, cat owners can make the food more palatable.”

Stella and Chewy’s has six flavors of freeze-dried dinners: chicken, turkey, duck, salmon and cod, salmon and chicken and herring and tuna. All are available in 12-ounce bags and a new single-serve pouch that feeds like a 3-ounce can once it’s rehydrated. In the first quarter of 2014 the company is adding a frozen cat food as well.

“We’ve been getting a lot of requests for frozen, and wanted to create more options for people who want to feed their cats an all-natural diet,” Moody said.

Sales of all-natural cat food might take up less of the total market than all-natural dog food for now, but with the innovations from manufacturers, growth of the category seems inevitable.

“People are starting to pay a lot more attention to what they’re feeding their pets, and really caring what they eat in terms of nutrition, and that goes for cats as well as dogs,” Anthony Burrus, communications director, Blackwood Pet Food, said.

Flea and Tick Control Becomes Year-Round Problem

With the emergence of pet travel, the theories behind flea and tick protection have changed, because there is no longer just a season of flea and ticks. Instead it has become a year-round battle.

“I would say that over the past 5 years, the flea and tick ‘season’ seemed to be longer each year,” Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of Wondercide, said. “There are certainly peak times and geographic locations, but with pets traveling more with their families, and rescuers driving cross-country to save animals from euthanasia, the seasonal lines have blurred.”

When administering flea and tick protection year-round, products that work and are safe, are some of the first things consumers think of.

“Oftentimes, consumers are misled and oversold falseness on the safety aspects and efficacy of products,” Peggy Smith, media and marketing director for Bio-Groom, said. “Educating consumers on the true facts about products versus false selling points will help them make wiser decisions.”

Jeff Fowler, national sales manager of Natural Chemistry, said the trend continues to grow and many consumers are looking for safe and effective products to solve their pets’ flea and tick problems.

“Consumers first need to focus on treating their yard and or kennel so that their pets do not bring the problem into the home,” Fowler said. “Natural Chemistry offers a yard and kennel product covering 4,500 square feet and it has a pleasant cinnamon, clove and vanilla scent. Once the yard is treated, consumers can focus on treating the pet and home with our other natural solutions.”

Two Types of Buyers

Boone said there are two types of buyers in the flea and tick category.

“The first type of buyer will continue to use topical or spot-on chemical-based products because, one, that is what their vet or retailer sells them and they trust their advice, two, that is what they have always done and what they see on TV, or three, because it’s easy to use and available everywhere,” he said. “However, this buyer is increasingly frustrated that the topical treatments aren’t as effective as they once were, whether OTC low cost or vet clinic higher cost, and will simply switch brands or double the dose to get the desired outcome.

“The second type of buyer will either never use or only use topical spot-ons in dire situations, usually before they have done any research for themselves because their pets don’t usually get fleas or ticks. This buyer only wants to use products on their pets that they trust are safe enough to use on themselves. They try to eliminate chemicals, detergents, cleaning agents, dyes, perfumes, etc., from their living environments whenever possible and try to eat organic. They feed their pets a high-quality kibble or partially raw diet. They believe in supplements and vitamins. They hate fleas and ticks as much as the first group, but will go through multiple home remedies and natural products before they will resort to chemicals in the home or on the pet.”

When talking to a customer, Boone suggests you first ask if they have an active flea and/or tick problem or if they want to prevent one.

“If they have an active population or an infestation, we urge them to ‘treat the source,’” Boone said. “Their home and lawn along with their pet(s), and not just the symptom, a pet with fleas or ticks. Insects come from outside and when they come inside, they can take over. When that is explained, it helps them understand the process and the products required to be successful the first time. This method reduces the impact on the animal and extends wellness by minimizing chemical exposure. A holistic approach is a winning approach and more cost-effective short and long term.

“If they don’t have a current flea or tick issue and simply want protection for outdoor activities, we direct them to EVOLV, our powerful repellent and contact-kill product for pets. As a preventive, they can apply the spray before walks, hiking or the puppy park. But it’s versatile. If they forget and find a flea or tick after play, they can simply spray the dog down and anything that hitched a ride is killed immediately. In a retail setting, understanding the problem is the best way to offer a solution and explain what is needed to win. In this case, one brand fits all, but how and when you use it varies by the crucial question: prevention or treatment?”

Why Natural

Carlos Zamora, the marketing coordinator for SynergyLabs, said the reason people use natural flea and tick products is because of the ingredients used.

“Non-natural products have synthesized ingredients that can be done on the cheap and prove to be very ineffective, while most natural flea and tick products include vitamins, which is definitely an added value for the dog,” Zamora said. “From a manufacturer’s stand point, producing organic products, especially in the flea and tick category, means that their raw materials are better in quality, which translated to a more effective product.”

Zamora noticed retailers and consumers look for authenticity in products.

“There are a lot of companies claiming to be natural when it’s really more of a marketing ploy,” Zamora said. “However, the consumer is now smarter than ever with easy access to a quick search online. A great rule of thumb of differentiating a real product from a fake one would be by viewing if the label contains a list of active ingredients, meaning those ingredients that are used in a treatment.”

Give Them Options

Just like children, not every dog is the same.

They may be the same breed, but each dog that a customer is buying for is unique.

Because of this, natural supplements have many different ways to be given to the animal: pill, paste, liquid, powder and more.

The new emerging trend is to give the consumer an option.

“We have developed a beef tab and liquid alternative, just so the consumer has an alternative,” Darren Landis, president of Hyalogic, said. “We also give a low to high joint alternative too. It gives the consumer the power of choice. Sometimes they may find a product they really like with the ingredients, but it’s in a beef tab and their dog won’t take beef tabs, they will only do liquid. Now they have the alternative.”

Their product, Premium Hyaluronic Acid by Hyalogic, is meant to be used to promote healthy joints in animals.

Hyalogic believes this is the trend moving forward, that when it comes to natural supplements, like vitamins, you want to give the consumer options. Landis said the arguments for either side, tabs or liquid, is too great and too many people will say one is better than the other.

“We did have some additional options, like a powder formula,” Landis said. “But it seems like people are really choosing between a beef tab and a liquid. Now there will probably be some different delivery methods with treats. Just like on the human side, people want alternatives. They are tired of tablets or pills. They want something that is more convenient.”

PureLife4Pets has noticed the trend in the animal supplement market is mimicking the human supplement market.

“Customers are looking for new ingredients that are pure and easy to administer,” Oscar Tenorio, product line manager of PureLife4Pets, said. “Another issue that keeps rising is the number of overweight dogs and cats. We, as manufacturers of healthy products, have the responsibility of providing comprehensive solutions that contribute to the happiness of families by improving the quality of life of their pets.”


The National Animal Supplement Council was formed in 2002 to promote the health and well-being of nonhuman food chain animals that are given animal health supplements by establishing federal and state regulations which are fair, reasonable, responsible and nationally consistent.

“Pressure fell onto the industry because there were a lot of stop sales by state regulators,” Karen Howard, president of the NASC, said. “The FDA was increasingly concerned about the safety of the products on the market. In response, a group got together and formed the NASC.

“The space we operate in is very unique in that it sits on the drug side, since once FDA ruled that supplements were not a part of the deity supplement and health and education act. We automatically fell into the drug realm. They are considered drugs to a low regulatory priority, with which the agency has regulatory discretion over.”

According to the NASC, the value of having their seal on products translates directly to the consumers.

“Because our audited company adheres to the standards that we have defined,” Howard said, “consumers can know they are buying supplements that they can trust.”
Watching the trends on the pet supplement side, Howard said, it seems to follow the human side around the 4-year-mark.

“Right now we are seeing an increase in herbs, botanicals, prebiotics, probiotics,” Howard said. “It just follows the trend of the human side.”

Consumer Buying Power

According to NutraLife Pet, over the last few years, natural products have become more mainstream, resulting in an upswing in the natural supplement industry.

“In the past, veterinarians were the major drivers of these products. However, as consumers are becoming more and more educated regarding their pets’ health, they have taken more of a front seat in the buying process,” Avigail Glass, president of NutraLife Pet, said. “This stems from what the industry calls ‘Pet Humanization,’ which means pet parents are caring for their pets much like they care for themselves, very proactive.

“Based on this demand, pet retailers and online pet retailers have been expanding their natural supplement offerings.”

Pet Naturals of Vermont has noticed that consumers are more aware and more educated on the use and benefits of supplementation than ever before.

“Many pet owners who buy supplements for their pets, also use supplements themselves and recognize the benefits through personal experience,” Sara Phillips, strategic brand manager of Pet Naturals of Vermont, said. “Holistic veterinary practices are gaining market share among mainstream pet owners, and many of these professionals recommend natural supplements as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.”

Capitalizing on the Natural Market

Natural products have already caught the attention of the average consumer. Now it’s just a matter of pointing it out to them in your store.

While some customers may need a bit more knowledge about the ever-changing category, others just need the appropriate sign.

“Using natural displays is a great way to draw the consumer’s eye: wooden display stands, farm baskets, bamboo baskets and bins,” Kristen Smith, brand ambassador of Planet Dog, said. “Using signage to call out a natural section or display helps the consumer to see those items easily and immediately. Feature natural and/or eco-friendly products near the front of the store to immediately alert the consumer that you have a selection to choose from. A trained staff can answer questions from consumers eager to find sustainable and natural products.”

Sara Phillips, the strategic brand manager of Pet Naturals of Vermont, said the interest is already there from consumers.

“Consumers are already looking for natural products, so simply pointing out a ‘natural solution’ will perk the interest of your consumer,” Phillips said. “Featuring natural products on an end cap or stand-alone display will also draw their interest.”

Phillips also said that with their natural supplements, they like to say there are side benefits.

“For example, our hip and joint product contains the necessary nutrients for joint and connective tissue support, but because it contains EFAs and vitamin C, the animal will receive the side benefits of those nutrients: skin support, heart support, immune support, etc.,” Phillips said.

Follow Industry Trends

Rob Cadenhead, vice president of sales and marketing of Spring Naturals, said they closely monitor human trends to see what may happen in the pet industry.

“We follow human food trends very closely and incorporate relevant food ingredients that are healthy for dogs and cats into our diets,” Cadenhead said. “For example, ancestral grains like quinoa, spelt and amaranth are becoming very popular in human diets, and we have incorporated quinoa into some of our dog diets because of its health benefits.”

Maggie Johnson, co-owner of Sojos, said customers gravitate toward natural products if they tend to practice or identify with clean living, and they may use them if their pets have suffered from illness.

“The results speak for themselves,” Johnson said. “Feeding our pets healthy natural food and treats makes us feel better if we value clean living and want our pets to live long lives.”

Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo!, said their brand message doesn’t vary from retailers to consumers.

“We deliver on our brand promise on both fronts and work to reinforce our message at every opportunity, whether on our packaging or working closely with our distributors and retailers to educate them on the brand. Our core values are front and center,” Schubert said. “Some of the tools we use to do this are Bravo! Beginnings, a booklet that explains raw diets and how to transition a pet to a raw diet, as well as online educational videos on the safe storage, handling and serving of our products. We also have in-store and online training programs for our distributors and retail sales associates.”

Consumer Awareness

Consumers are more aware of all of the products they purchase, their food, their children’s toys, their clothes and the products they get for their pets.

“They recognize that there is no regulation in the pet industry, and they see frequent recalls of tainted products,” Smith said. “Consumers now see their pets as part of the family, and want to protect them and offer them safe, healthy, nontoxic products from companies they trust. The benefits for dogs are the same as those for people: safety and health for the entire family.

“Dogs play with their mouths and tend to puncture or tear apart their toys, so whatever is in the toy is in the dog. Dogs then lick the people who love them, so those chemicals and additives go far beyond the dog product. Environmentally friendly toys are going to be safer for the health and safety of every member of the household, while also being better for the environment.”

Paw Pods Managing Partner Ben Riggan said the fact his product is eco-friendly has really helped show off the pros of his product.

“The pros are obvious, being better for the environment overall, and the people/pets affected by the product,” Riggan said. “But another pro is simply the increase in popularity of buying natural. As more people buy themselves all-natural human products, they become more and more open, and even seek out, comparable eco-friendly options for their pets.”

According to Smith, consumers are looking for companies that demonstrate a deep love for animals that echoes the love they feel for their pet.

“They look for transparent companies who share their commitment to healthy pets,” Smith said. “They look for durable products made from safe, nontoxic materials. In addition, people are including their dogs with them in every area of their life; their dog truly is a part of the family, so people seek all natural products that fit well into a healthy, outdoorsy, more natural lifestyle.”

Peggy Smith, the media and marketing director for Bio-Groom, said consumers look for natural products because they believe natural is better.

“When they see natural they are assuming the product is the best quality, safe and proven,” she said. “Since natural became overused, it fell on some products that might not be the best, safe or proven. Once again, consumers need to use discernment. Make sure the product is made from proven safe ingredients.”

Johnson said consumers are looking for things Sojos has been proving for almost 30 years.

“Healthy whole food ingredients, no GMOs, byproducts, soy, fillers, preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, and no added sugar or salt,” Johnson said. “People want to balance healthy feeding and simplicity with cost. Retailers are looking for solutions to the demand for: One, easy-to-prepare; two, great in value; and three, extremely healthy and natural.”

Kristie Hamilton, the director of sales for Imperial Cat, said they utilize informative product packaging that is easy to digest, so it’s a quick tool to educate both the consumer and retailer about their products.

“Customers positively associate the word ‘natural’ with health and well-being, and pet owners appreciate products that benefit their pet in those ways,” Hamilton said.

Retailer Knowledge

According to Peggy Smith, retailers should be educated on the specifics about products.

“This can be done by sales representatives from manufacturers coming to the store and discussing the products with the staff,” Peggy Smith said. “The more the retailer knows about the products they carry, the more they will be able to advise consumers on a wise purchase.”

Susan Weiss, president of Ark Naturals, said the easiest way for retailers to boost sales is to have trained salespeople.

“You can’t sell something that you can’t explain,” Weiss said. “Just putting a product on the shelf is not going to help a retailer grow his or her business.”

John Gigliotti, the founder and CEO of Whole Life Pet, said they have been doing a lot of work with displays for retailers and have been seeing amazing results.

“We designed a simple corrugated floor stand and it’s made it really easy for new accounts to sell our treats and also helped existing accounts promote certain products and new items,” Gigliotti said. “We also provide a lot of information and resources through a variety of online media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and our website. We recently launched an ‘about us’ video that really brings you inside the way we think and operate on a daily basis.”

Gigliotti also said retailers can raise the sales of natural products in their store by learning more about the brands they sell and telling those stories to pet owners.

“Pet parents want to feel connected to the products they feed their pets,” Gigliotti said.

Cadenhead said Spring Naturals offers a full range of POP materials including on-shelf video displays, banners, posters, shelf talkers, consumer brochures, free samples and more, to help retailers raise the sales of natural products in their store.

“Special off-shelf displays with their highest sales and margin items is a great place to start,” Cadenhead said. “This allows consumers to focus on the most important natural products that a retailer has to offer.”

The greatest tool Bravo! gives to its distributors and retailers is education on their brand, according to Schubert.

“We truly believe you cannot sell products like ours until you understand the brand and what differentiates us from other pet foods,” Schubert said. “We spend a lot of time working with our distributor and retail partners to be sure they understand the brand and the various lines within our product family.  We do this through in-store and online training seminars. They cannot sell raw diet and all-natural pet food products unless they can answer their customers’ questions.”

John J. Phillips, Jr., president and CEO of Wholistic Pet Organics, said they have consumer brochures for their core product lines, a full-line catalog which they update annually, and shelf talkers.

“We also are working on additional training tools that retailers can use to help them detail what makes our product line different and better than the average supplement line,” Phillips said. “With our category, team training is absolutely essential to sell more supplements. Our items afford a very high margin for retailers and the more that retailer sales associates know about the unique benefits of our brand, the more profit they will generate.”


According to Bravo!, all-natural pet foods are the fastest-growing segment in the market today.

“As such, we are seeing more manufacturers entering the category, which says a lot in terms of the opportunities for growing the business,” Schubert said. “Bravo! continues to do what we have been doing since we opened our doors, and that is providing pet parents with a high-quality, all-natural diet that is the best value for their dollar.  We continue to work closely with our distributors and retail partners to be sure they are educated about our brand and the benefits of feeding our products.”

The pet industry trends tend to mimic the human trends by roughly 4 years. Lynda Goldman works in the natural channel with natural, holistic and organic products for people and has seen continued growth on the human side.

“One of the trends of the future is people are looking for more natural healthy products of all kinds,” Goldman said. “The organic sector is growing, the no-GMO sector is growing, people are looking for snacks that are more healthy for themselves, their children and their pets.”

Healthy Food Choices

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.

Familiar Ingredients

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.

Grain Free

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.

Specialty Foods

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.

A Total Clean Up

No one knows better than pet retailers the messes that animals can make. There are litter boxes and puppy potty training messes to clean up, and the inevitable throw up when a dog eats something they shouldn’t.

Everyone loves the cute little puppy looking at you longingly with adorable eyes, but few people would admit to loving walking into a house an immediately being able to say, “a dog lives here.”

Luckily, there are some great new products on the market that not only help clean up the stains and odors pets can leave behind, they are also all-natural and chemical free.

So in addition to helping your customers clean their houses, you’re also helping them keep the environment a little cleaner by using products that don’t add harsh chemicals into the environment.

Many are also made by companies that pay attention to green practices in their manufacturing processes.

Using cleaning agents made from natural products and enzymes rather than harsh chemicals isn’t just better for the environment, they are also better for pets and people. All-natural products reduce the amount of chemicals pets are exposed to that could be harmful to their health.

And, many of these cleaners work by using natural enzymes that break down the mold and fungus in the air or on surfaces, leading to an all-around cleaner environment with a reduced number of allergens that affect both pets and people.

“There has always been an underground population that sought out all-natural products, but now the category is growing thanks to a heightened awareness,” David Levesque, director of business development for Kanberra Gel, said. “People are looking for products that provide the results they need with ingredients that are safe and natural and have been around for centuries.”

Tackling Stains

One of the biggest challenges pet owners face is keeping floors and furniture clean from pet stains.

They don’t want something that will just cover up the affected area, they want a cleaner that will eliminate the problem so there isn’t a lingering stain or odor, which often will cause pets to become repeat offenders.

Earth’s Balance 180 XT stain remover from Marshall Pet Products is a professional-strength formula available for homeowners. This product uses biodegradable surfactants and a patented Moleculift technology to lift pheromones up and out of the surface.

“This product helps pets from re-soiling the same area by getting out the pheromones immediately,” Linda Cope, global marketing manager for Marshall Pet Products, said.

Earth Friendly Products also has its popular Pet Stain & Odor Remover, as well as carpet and floor cleaners.

These all use natural enzymes, and the carpet cleaner also uses coconut and sugar-based surfactants, to mimic the process in nature that breaks down disease.

“Synthetic products often mask odor with strong, overpowering fragrances, but our products use nature’s power to break down the cause of stains and odors,” Jenna Arkin, a chemist for Earth Friendly Products, said.

In addition to natural enzymes, the Eco-Care Stain and Odor Remover from Simple Solutions uses pro-bacteria, as well. This works with enzymes to neutralize stains and odors rather than just covering them up.

While some customers will be asking specifically for all-natural cleaning products, others might not be aware that these products are just as effective and beneficial in other ways than their traditional, chemical-based products.

A great way to market and sell these products to your customers is to use them in your store and send samples home with your employees to use at home.

It will not only enable your staff to have first-hand experience with these products to share with customers and help them answer questions or address concerns, it also gives customers an opportunity to see the products in action.

Eliminating Odors

It isn’t just spot-cleaning that pet owners have to deal with.

From wet dogs to full litter boxes, pets can often leave a lingering odor in a home, one that seems to become a part of the carpet, fabric and the entire atmosphere.

While some people might reach for an air freshener to mask that smell, there’s an all-natural alternative available for pet retailers that actually eliminates the cause of the odor and cleans the air, Kanberra Gel. First marketed to marinas for use on boats, this product is finding its way into pet stores and is becoming a hit with customers.

“The gel is made with a blend of two or three types of tea tree oils,” Levesque says. “As the gel evaporates, the tea tree oils become airborne, where they interact with molds, fungi, and any airborne bacteria, such as the virus that causes kennel cough. You’re cleaning up the air, so you don’t only lose the odor, you are also eliminating potential allergens that affect pets and people.”

Kanberra has also created a spray from of the tea tree oils that can be applied directly to a pet. This works on furs and even surgical scars.

For success in selling Kanberra gel and similar air cleaners, set them up in a display of their own, preferably near the check out, rather than putting them with air fresheners. By placing them at the check out you invite customers to ask about the product and give the opportunity for education on how tea tree oils work.

Kanberra also provides samples, so customers can see for themselves how effective the product is before making a purchase.

Providing all-natural alternatives to clean up pet messes not only gives your store products that some people are looking for, it also gives you a product to sell to people who might not know they had the alternative.

“The biggest challenge with selling natural pet products is overcoming the perception that they’re less efficacious than the competition,” Matt Smith, marketing director for RPG Direct, said. “In reality, many natural products on the market work just as well if not better than their ‘non-natural’ competition. One of the best ways to counter this perception is by marketing with clear, objective product comparisons. No frills. Just the facts.”

Karen M. Alley

A Booming Sales Category

It seems only right that natural and organic products would be a growing category for the small pet market.

After all, people who have rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters recognize that these animals, while they’re pets, are a little more on the wild side than our domesticated cats and dogs.

For many people, that translates to making their habitat within their cage mimic their natural habitat as much as possible. For retailers, that means an opportunity to market natural products, from accessories to bedding to food and snacks, to the 17 million households with small pets, according to CareFRESH Naturals.

Facts on Food

Many people often equate organic with food, and when it comes to small pets there are a number of organic and all-natural food products to offer consumers.

Oxbow Animal Health has offered its BeneTerra line of USDA Certified Organic food, hay and treats since 2008.

“More pet owners are committed to having their pet’s nutrition program mirror their own, so with that in mind we introduced the BeneTerra line to offer pet owners the ability to provide complete nutrition for their pets, while leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible,” Melissa Ross, marketing operations manager, said. “The BeneTerra line includes fortified food for guinea pigs and rabbits, as well as hay and barley biscuits.”

Vitakraft Sunseed has also launched a new line of all-natural treats that take advantage of people’s instinct to humanize their pets.

Using all natural ingredients, they have come up with a line of fun treats that include one that looks like gourmet or vegetable pizza, and a trail mix that comes in several different varieties.

There’s also a Sun Treat salad that offers a variety of ingredients, from rose hips to apple slices.

“Consumers like to be able to buy their pets something similar to what we eat, which makes these products fun,” Lisa Kniceley, inside sales representative, Vitakraft Sunseed, said.

Benefits in Bedding

The material put into cages of small pets is important for many reasons. It gives them a place to burrow to sleep, it provides a place to play and hide food and of course, it absorbs the waste the pet produces.

Because of the last reason, this bedding is changed very often, and customers will go through it bag after bag. Many of them are looking for options that are not only great for the pet, but are also environmentally friendly.

Vitakraft Sunseed has a relatively new line of Eco Bedding that covers all of the above, plus some. The product is made out of 100 percent recycled paper right in the company’s home state of Ohio.

The paper is a clean product because it goes through a process that neutralizes the ink that might be in the paper, as well as being vacuumed, making it free of dust and good for pet owners who might suffer from allergies.

The Eco Bedding comes in three colors, brown, blue and purple. It is innovative in the fact that it is made in an interlocking style that makes the product bouncy, making it more fun for the pets and somewhat interactive.

Vitakraft also has other offerings that appeal to the customer who is looking for all-natural options.

Their most popular product is the Fresh World bedding, which recycles paper from the Paper Gator project, a program that collects recycled paper from non-profits such as schools and churches and gives the organizations money in return, based on the weight of the paper.

“This product is a triple win,” Kniceley said. “The customer wins because they have a great product, the non-profits win with money for their organization and the environment wins from the recycling.”

Another option is the CareFRESH line of Natural Pet Bedding. Made from reclaimed, biodegradable wood pulp, it is safe for pets because it has no pine or cedar oils and it is super absorbent.

Customers will appreciate the fact that not only is the company not using up natural resources to make their product; they’re using what other companies can’t.

Pushing the Sales

The marketability of these products goes beyond the ability to get the animal as close to its natural habitat as possible.

When thinking about how to move these products, keep in mind the three Ps: Creating a healthier pet, planet and people.

Many of the manufacturers of all-natural or organic products for small pets are also very concerned about the environment and make sure their processes impact the environment as little as possible by using recycled materials when possible.

Make buying these products easier by not only having them all located next to each other, but also by having pre-made kits.

Vitakraft put together a kit, in partnership with Ware Manufacturing, that is a good way to get new small pet owners started with all-natural products. The cage is packed with a bag of Vitakraft’s food, a bag of Eco Bedding and a water bottle.

Retailers can also make up their own kits like this to introduce people to all natural product lines for small pets.

“Committing to an organic set is another way to stand out from the crown, as well as to show a commitment to providing options for small pets,” Ross said.

Stella & Chewy’s Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

It all started 10 years ago in a New York City apartment that was packed with freezers and boxes of freeze-dried food.

“I started selling to one store, then two, then three,” Marie Moody, the founder and president of Stella & Chewy’s, said. “It slowly kept growing.”

Now, Stella & Chewy’s has grown into a large business with 170 employees, and a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin.

“It’s been really fun and exciting,” Moody said. “I feel like we made some tough decisions in the beginning that were expensive, such as controlling our own manufacturing. I feel like … these hard decisions are the ones that have really set us apart.”

Eventually as the company started gaining steam, Moody outsourced the manufacturing to a production facility. Though, when using a production facility, Moody wasn’t able to control her product as much as she wanted.

“After four years the business was sort of at a point where it was just beef and chicken and I wanted to use more organic ingredients,” Moody said. “I wanted to have control of the manufacturing process before going national. So I opened a plant in Wisconsin in 2007.”

In 2010, the business turned a corner by doing something a lot of companies don’t, she said.

“We took our first price increase on the freeze dried food,” Moody said. “It is a common mistake that people make, they don’t charge enough and are afraid to make the price jump. It really did make a big difference.”

Since then, the company has become a leader in the freeze–dried and frozen food space.

“We want to continue to be the leader in freeze dried food,” Moody said.

Sourced From Nature

There’s a reason why people refer to their pets as fur babies in online forums and even everyday conversation. These lovable creatures are as much a part of the family as kids for most people.

Therefore, pet owners are likely to pay as much attention to what’s going into their new puppy’s mouth as they would to what is going into their baby’s mouth, and that translates into buying organic.

According to a recent survey from the Organic Trade Association, 8 in 10 parents report purchasing organic products. While the research wasn’t conducted on pet owners as well, there’s no denying that the organic market is growing overall.

Whether it’s food, clothes or toys, people are paying more attention to what their pets eat, play with and just come into contact with on a daily basis. Total organic sales were up almost 10 percent in 2010, according to the OTA.

Organic and all-natural toys are an important category for retailers to pay attention to. After all, it’s not just food that gets into a pets’ systems. The toys they carry around and chew on often get ingested, too.

“Our pets are like the canary in the coal mine,” Pam Wheelock, owner of Purrfect Play, said. “They’re on the ground, walking on Teflon, people are petting them with lotions and perfumes on their hands, they’re coming into contact with chemicals constantly.”

Because of this, many manufacturers have turned to making toys out of organic and all-natural materials to help reduce the amount of harmful chemicals our pets are exposed to in their lifetimes.

“For me, it’s all about the raw materials and starting out with good quality,” Carol Perkins, owner of Harry Barker, said. “It might be more challenging finding the materials, but making sustainable products is just inherent in my DNA, and I think the challenge is part of the fun.”

Fabric of Our Lives

Whether it’s organic cotton or hemp grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals, the basic elements of squeaky and rope toys can be found for manufacturers of organic and all-natural toys.

Harry Barker has been selling hemp toys since Perkins started making the first simple bone on her kitchen table.

“I love hemp because it’s mildew resistant and anti-fungal, and it’s a tough, sturdy material,” Perkins said.

While the rope is a classic for this company, they’re always introducing new designs. The latest is the seaside collection, with alligators, starfish and seahorses. Purrfect Play also has two new lines of hemp toys hitting the market this summer. A carrot shape filled with organic catnip is designed to appeal to cats.

Organic cotton lends itself to soft plush toys, great for smaller dogs that like to carry their toys around. PetFlys, out of Burbank, Calif., produces a line of toys called Knit Knacks that are hand-crocheted from organic cotton. Whether you prefer animals or cartoon characters, there’s something for everyone with 25 different colorful shapes to choose from.

“The great thing about these toys is they are soft enough to appeal to pets, but the threads are tough enough to be long lasting and make excellent natural tooth cleaners,” said Jana Ritter, marketing director of PetFlys.

Wool also makes a great material for creating dog toys.

A Cheerful Pet in Norma, N.J., produces products made from 100 percent all-natural wool from New Zealand. The boiled wool is molded into shapes including rings, balls, animals and bones, and appeal to both cats and dogs.

Making It Appealing

While there are some people who are already seeking out organic toys, many consumers just come into the store looking for something to entertain their pets.

“At the end of the day, while healthy choices are important, how a product is presented to the customer is probably even more important at getting sales,” Jean Chae, director of product development and sales at Simply Fido, in Brooklyn, N.Y., said.

Chae’s family has been in the toy business for over 40 years. About 10 years ago, after her mother won a battle with cancer, they changed their production to make only organic toys. It was only natural to launch an organic line for pets.

“Pets are our family too, and if we want good products for our children, we want the same for our pets,” Chae said.

At Simply Fido they work really hard to make designs that are visually appealing, with soft, plush animals and bones. They use dyes that have a low environmental impact, and the toys are made with the same process used for dying baby clothes.

“We pay a lot of attention to details in our design,” Chae said.

Getting Into Rubber

Many rubber pet toys are a synthetic material made with a petro-chemical process. Rubber pet toys are the fastest growing type of toy, showing an 11 percent growth rate from 2008 to 2010, according to the American Pet Products Association survey.

This growth hasn’t been lost on manufacturers of all-natural toys. Both Simply Fido and Harry Barker are coming out with lines of rubber toys this summer.

“We wanted to do something new, so after looking around and doing our research, we found that people love rubber toys,” Chae said. “Ours will be 100 percent pure rubber toys with no additives. You won’t get that white powder residue on your hands that you get from rubber with additives.”

Harry Barker’s rubber toys were inspired by Perkins’s recent trip to France. After falling in love with the tassel shape on the key bob for her hotel room, she decided to use that same design for a toy that you can stuff.

“I’m excited to be launching into the rubber world,” Perkins said.

Her toys will be 72 percent natural rubber, and the rest of the compounds are natural as well.

“It’s the highest content we found to be effective,” she said. “It’s durable, tossable, tuggable and stuffable.”

Making the Sale

As with any product, educating yourself and your sales staff on the materials and benefits of organic and all-natural toys is key to helping them fly off the shelf.

“Once people are educated and know the benefits of these natural materials free of harmful chemicals, they’re more likely to spend a little more,” Halle Kearns, vice president of sales for Harry Barker, said.
Merchandising is important as well. Many manufacturers provide creative displays to help sell their products, from a coconut shell full of hemp carrots from Purrfect Play to an egg carton stuffed with KnitKnacks from Pet Flys.

Use creative placement in the store to get these products in front of customers as well. Putting a display of organic toys next to your organic dog food will help customers realize that it’s not just food going in their dog’s mouth, and these toys are a great way to continue the healthy, environmentally friendly values through to a new product category.

– Karen M. Alley

New Study Gives a Complete Look at Natural Segment

The natural market in the pet industry has been growing each year and according to research done by the Natural Marketing Institute, it’s not going to stop.

Alan Kerzner, the founder and president of Business Growth Associates, teamed up with NMI, to put together a comprehensive report titled, “Natural Opportunities in the Pet Marketplace.”

“I have been involved in the pet industry for 12 years,” Kerzner said. “One of the things I noticed is there has been very little good and data accessible to companies about how consumers decide whether to purchase natural products and how their behavior and decision-making processes differ by category.”
The study has a sample of 1,000 cat owners and 1,000 dog owners.

“One of the most interesting things, and when you see the numbers it’s astounding, is that dog and cat owners who purchased natural pet products are by far the most profitable and attractive consumers,” Kerzner said. “We researched a number of product categories, food, treats, bones, supplements, cat litter, toys and in all of these categories, consumers of natural pet products purchased more of the categories, purchased them more frequently and were willing to spend more per item.”

“The reason why is that natural pet owners, pet owners that buy natural pet products, are less price sensitive because they view natural products, especially food, as enhancing the pets life,” Kerzner said. “You’re willing to spend more if you are a committed pet owner and think this is really going to impact the pet’s life and make it better.”

Also, the study found that dog owners are more likely to use natural products than cat owners.

“I think there are two reasons for this,” Kerzner said. “One is that, often times, consumers will spend more on dog products than cat products. But the other thing is, major manufacturers of natural have focused much more on dog than cat. I believe that is beginning to change.”

In terms of outlets, independent pet and pet big box pet outlets have led the movement to natural. Other outlets, including surprisingly natural outlets, as well as traditional grocery and mass merchandiser are significantly underdeveloped in natural pet care business.

Kerzner believes the natural product section will continue to grow.

“The food and treats section can at least double still,” Kerzner said. “Over 25 percent of the human population eats natural products fairly regularly. For pets it’s still under 12 percent. Manufacturers and retailers can take specific steps to drive their appeal to natural consumers and grow their natural pet product sales.

“The natural human market is still growing and the pet market will continue to grow at a higher rate.”

Additional information on the study can be gained by contacting Alan Kerzner at, 609-477-2504 or Gwynne Vilotta of Natural Marketing Institute at or 215-513-7300, x227.


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