Glenn Polyn//October 3, 2023//
Glenn Polyn //October 3, 2023//
According to the 2023-2024 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 65.1 million households in the country own at least one dog, making them the most widely owned type of pet in the United States. When it comes to the total number of pets, the survey shows that companion dogs sit atop the list at 89.7 million in the United States, while cats come in at 46.5 million.
Yes, dogs drive the pet industry. While the economy is impacting pet parents and their purchasing decisions, consumers have shown they are willing to spend more for certain product attributes, according to the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2023-2024 National Pet Owners Survey. Pet owners continue to purchase natural, grain-free, organic, limited-ingredient and meal mixer products. According to APPA, 20 percent of dog owners purchase natural pet food; 14 percent of dog owners purchase grain-free diets; 11 percent of dog owners purchase organic pet food; 8 percent of dog owners purchase limited-ingredient diets; and 10 percent of dog owners purchase meal mixers.
FOOD & TREATS
“I’m seeing a definite shift to ‘raw’ feeding vs. kibble,” explained Don Wara, senior manager of Maxwell and Molly’s, a pet supply store with locations in Newton, New Jersey; Sparta, New Jersey; and Hamburg, New Jersey. “When I say ‘raw,’ I mean frozen, freeze-dried and now more of the gently cooked/sous vide foods. A large percentage of our customers include some type of raw food in their dog’s diet, either full or mixed with kibble. Also, we have many customers using bone broth or goat milk or some type of liquid topper to hydrate kibble and enhance their raw diet. Also, many customers are adding freeze-dried toppers to their dog’s diet in the form of nuggets or sliders. They will crush them and sprinkle them on top of the meal.”
The younger generations of dog parents are exploring their options, which has pushed freeze-dried and air-dried like Vital Essentials and ZIWI to the forefront. Many dog owners are intrigued by the notion of an ancestral diet, based on their desire for fresh, healthy ingredients in their dog’s food. It’s also become obvious that they’re willing to pay the price for these premium diets.
Inspired by the nutrition of raw diets, while offering the convenience and safety of dry foods, ZIWI’s dog food recipes are simple and all natural, with no artificial preservatives, additives, GMO’s or antibiotics. ZIWI includes nutrient packed functional ingredients like New Zealand green-lipped mussels for Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, ground bone and cartilage to provide the necessary proteins to support healthy bone and joint development, heart health and a healthy skin and coat. The recipes also include cold-washed green tripe to help support healthy digestion and increase palatability for even the pickiest eaters.
The brand’s dog food recipes are handcrafted in small batches in its own New Zealand kitchens, using only high-quality ingredients. Each PeakPrey recipe is carefully crafted to match a dog’s biological needs from ethical and sustainable sourcing of meats from New Zealand.
As with dog food, innovation has played a role in the advancement of the dog treat sector. In addition, Wara of Maxwell and Molly’s is among the retailers who promote treats with ingredient panels that have simple or limited items.
“As far as dog treats, I have a lot of customers who claim their dog is fussy or has a sensitive stomach,” he noted. “My typical response is to ask them what they’re using for treats. If they tell me it’s whatever they pick up from the grocery store, Marshall’s or Home Goods, I will steer them toward limited-ingredient treats or single-ingredient fish treats. I like single- or limited-ingredient everything for dogs.”
Sam Chen, sales director at NPIC, takes pride in Get Naked being an award-winning pioneer that was established in 1998. NPIC’s success can be attributed to its relentless pursuit of excellence in pet treat manufacturing. The company owns its state-of-the-art, 160,000-square-foot facility, which is SQF Level 3 certified, which enables NPIC to introduce many innovations that are improving the health and well-being of dogs.
One such innovation is the N-Bone Puppy Teething Ring, which was launched long before pet humanization became a popular trend during the pandemic. Over the years, the N-Bone Puppy Teething line has become a leading puppy treat in this category and a go-to product for puppy parents.
As for Get Naked, its functional treat formulas focus on such key areas as joint, digestion, weight management, antioxidant, calming, skin and coat, puppy and senior care. Each option is formulated with wholesome ingredients and free from artificial preservatives or colors, grains and GMOs. They include ingredients that align with human food and wellness trends, contain higher nutritional values and improved palatability. Flavors of these treats include blueberry and chicken, maple and chicken, pineapple and chicken, pumpkin and chicken, salmon and chicken, apple and chicken, and coconut and chicken.
Dog toys have been experiencing enormous growth as we’ve moved away from the pandemic, and those toys flying off the shelves are those designed for mental stimulation, to relieve anxiety and with the concept of delivering an overall fun experience for the dog and the consumer.
Simply stocking a toy isn’t enough to generate sales; however, the proper display and the price point also play a role in how it will be received by consumers. Toys that are bright and colorful will add personality to a store aisle, while those displayed in baskets at end caps or at the counter will garner added attention. And offering toys at varying prices will enable customers to have options, since not all dog owners can afford premium products, especially when their pet might go through a toy a week.
While profit margins vary, depending on the retailers you speak to, toys commonly rank at or near the top of the list with profit margins that can reach 70 percent. What leads consumer interest in dog toys tends to be durability, creative designs and patterns of play.
Patchwork Pet, a family business based out of Chino, California, was born out of a deep passion for pet parenting. It all began with a group of dedicated pet enthusiasts who shared a common love for their furry companions.
“These individuals, like so many pet parents out there, were on a mission to provide the best possible care, love and entertainment for their beloved dogs,” said Karen Marroquin, marketing manager for Patchwork Pet. “They understood that dogs aren’t just pets; they’re cherished family members deserving of the finest toys and accessories. Driven by a desire to enhance the lives of their own four-legged friends and countless others, they embarked on a journey to create a brand that would set new standards in pet play and companionship. Thus, Patchwork Pet was born, grounded in the belief that every tail-wagging, joyful moment with a beloved pet is a treasure worth celebrating and nurturing.”
As the pet parenting landscape has evolved, so has the market for pet products, with dog toys playing a central role. As a result of this, the dog toy market has undergone a remarkable transformation. Patchwork Pet has been at the forefront of this change, consistently pushing the boundaries of innovation, safety and quality.
The days of simple rubber bones and tennis balls are long gone. Pet parents now demand toys that engage their dogs both mentally and physically while also being safe, durable and thoughtfully designed. With that in mind, Patchwork recently rebranded its product line to help dog parents create a deeper connection with their canine companions.
“Patchwork Pet’s rebrand launch encapsulates this deep bond,” notes Marroquin. “It acknowledges that pet parenting is about more than just providing food, shelter, and the occasional belly rub. It’s about nurturing a relationship that brings joy, meaning and fulfillment to our lives.
“One of the standout features of Patchwork Pet’s rebrand launch is our innovative approach to categorizing toys based on dogs’ play styles,” she added. “We understand that every dog is unique, and their play preferences vary. Patchwork Pet has recognized four distinct play styles, each catering to a specific aspect of a dog’s personality.”
The brand’s lineup has the Destroyer, which are ultra-durable for dogs that love to chew, rip and tear their toys to shreds; the Snuggler, which are soft, plush toys for dogs that prefer cuddles over chaos; the Thinker, which are puzzle toys that challenge their minds of intellectually inclined canines that desire problem-solving opportunities; and the Tugger, which are specifically designed for dogs that love a good game of tug-of-war.
These innovative categorizations from Patchwork Pet ensure that pet parents can find toys that resonate with their dog’s play style, resulting in happier, more engaged and healthier pets.
Adam Baker, president and founder of SodaPup, is focused on expanding the toy category by creating enrichment toys and designs “with people in mind and [we] are trying to create emotional connections through our designs.
“If we can create ‘OMG’ moments then consumers will choose SodaPup on impulse and then fall in love with us when our products perform well for them,” added Baker, who joined the pet industry in 2013 and launched the SodaPup brand with the goal of applying the product marketing principals he learned earlier in his career, namely to always put the consumer first; to create continuous product innovations; and to always give the consumer something exciting to look forward to.
Manufactured in the U.S., SodaPup toys are FDA-compliant, BPA and phthalate free, as well as easy on the planet with the passing of Prop 65 testing. Last year the brand launched its stopper stand for use with its rubber enrichment toys. Since then, the Unstoppables concept has extended into two additional product types that also work in conjunction with the brand’s rubber enrichment toys. The first new program is the Unstoppables Chewers which are nylon chewing knuckles that insert into its rubber treat dispensers using a patent-pending two-stop attachment mechanism. The second new program is called SodaPup Connectors that use the same patent-pending two stop attachment mechanism to connect multiple SodaPup treat dispensers, creating larger and more challenging puzzle toys for dogs.
The newest brand to the toy sector is GURU Pet, which was founded by pet industry veterans JJ and Amy Stone, GURU’s innovative dog toys challenge dogs’ minds, engage their natural instincts and inspire their spirit. Following a decade of inventing and developing successful pet products for top industry brands, the Stones have launched their own brand of dog toys with the slogan “simple innovation for challenging play,” which they say guides every product and every toy.
“Our toys are designed for dogs and satisfy their natural instincts, keeping them happy and content,” said Amy Stone. “Besides safety and durability, GURU focuses on creating toys that keeps pets’ mental and physical wellness the focus and at the forefront of every product that is developed.”
According to the Stones, there’s a science behind material durability and a dog’s teeth, which takes decades to understand. Materials can be too hard or soft and break off into pieces that could be harmful. Color matters, too, as bright colors engage both humans and dogs.
“Dogs only see certain colors, like blue and yellow, so we need to address that particular instinct,” noted Amy Stone. “As for buyers, bright colors grab a customer’s attention and interest. Simply put, bright sells.”
And when it comes to dog toys, retailers can’t have too many offerings. As the Stones see it, the more toy options retailers provide a pet parent, the better. That’s why GURU currently has more than 75 SKUs that will be available to order in January 2024.
“Dogs need many toys to stay busy and engaged,” explained Amy Stone. “Like kids, dogs figure out toys and puzzles, so make sure to rotate them to keep them interested.”
HEALTH & GROOMING
With “transparency” becoming a key word in the industry, dog owners have made health the No. 1 aspect in all products that they purchase. And that means health products are among the items they are incorporating into their dog’s daily regimen. Supplements, in the form that include powders and chews, are becoming more prevalent on retailer shelves. Now consumers with dogs that suffer from anxiety issues, dental problems, gut health, allergies or skin ailments, such as hot spots, have options that can benefit their beloved pet.
The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) is a non-profit group dedicated to protecting and enhancing the health of companion animals, and Bill Bookout, its president, believes that quality health products begin with quality raw materials that are tested and verified for identity, strength, potency, purity and composition. These raw materials must be properly blended and produced following current written Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) that are specifically applicable to animal supplements.
When it comes to selecting healthy products, Bookout recommends that retailers look for third-party, independent quality audits and ask to see the current certificate or quality mark that helps ensure someone has independently checked the supplier’s quality processes. The NASC Quality Seal of one such mark.
“The NASC Quality Seal is awarded only to companies that have successfully passed a facility audit and comply with rigorous quality standards, including strict labeling requirements and random product testing by an independent lab,” said Bookout.
Grooming, too, is becoming an essential category for dog parents. While consumers continue to take their dogs to the salon for professional grooming services, it’s no secret that pet stores are finding success with self-washing bays. Many of today’s dog bathing products contain natural, human-grade ingredients that check off the boxes for those consumers who focus on providing their companions with the same quality products that they do for themselves. More than simply the occasional bath, dog owners are looking to keep their dog clean and reduce shedding with frequent brushing.
Glo-Marr, a family-owned company that was established in 1965 with the Kenic brand in St. Petersburg, Florida, moved to the heart of central Kentucky, where it has been serving the pet industry and pet parents with trusted shampoos, conditioners and other healthcare and hygiene pet products. The company’s focuse has always been manufacturing quality, topical products that keep a dog’s skin and coat healthy, with Kenic, Balance, Barktini Blends and Kenic Retro making up its family of brands. In addition, Glo-Marr has become and remains a leader in the pet private label industry worldwide.
The pet industry is flourishing, and the dog sector will continue to lead the way. Attractive displays, education for staff and customers, and a wide range of options are the best ways to maintain and boost sales of dog products.