It goes without saying that the dog is king in the pet industry. According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 63.4 million households in the country own at least one dog, compared to 42.7 million being home to cats. When it comes to the total number of pets, the survey shows that companion dogs sit atop the list at 97 million in the United States, while cats come in at 76 million.
Yes, dogs drive the industry. One of the largest attended consumer shows in the country is the World Dog Expo, which features educational seminars, dog training classes and dock diving competitions. On the B2B side, walk any trade show and the vast majority of exhibitors carry canine products. And when innovation impacts the pet industry, the odds are overwhelming that it’s taking place in the dog sector of the industry.
Need more proof? There’s DOGTV, which provides dog-friendly television programs featuring content that is created to meet the attributes of a dog’s sense of vision and hearing while also supporting their natural behavior patterns. What other pet has its own TV shows?
Food and Treats
While traditional pet foods will always have a place among consumers, there’s a growing trend of younger generations exploring their options, which has pushed raw and brands like Answers, Longevity and most recently Tiki Pet 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 the pay the price for raw, frozen and freeze-dried diets. But that path is not without its obstacles, such as the occasional recall due to salmonella and the resulting safety concerns.
In fact, the FDA is having a major effect on dog food and treats of late. The recent FDA alerts of pig-ear chews and its investigation into the alleged link between grain-free food and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) have had a negative impact on consumer spending in the past year. Despite there being no definitive grain-free link to DCM, many dog owners are being told by influencers to avoid grain-free food options.
Farmina Pet Foods, a family-owned and operated Italian company involved in animal nutrition for more than 50 years, released a statement in July 2018 in response to the initial news of the DCM investigation. The company noted how its recipes contain 90 to 99 percent of protein from animal product while not splitting ingredients. It also explained that its production process involves the integration of taurine into all of its recipes.
Noted the Farmina announcement: “Dogs have evolved to be able to synthesize taurine from cysteine and methionine, two amino acids known to be included in vegetable protein, so it’s generally recognized that a dietary supplementation is not needed. However, Farmina is aware of scientific studies showing that certain dog breeds have difficulties in absorbing adequate quantities of taurine, in the natural conversion of sulfonated amino acids to taurine, as well as low protein/poor quality diets over long periods of time may lead to DCM. This is why Farmina has always integrated an additional 1,000mg/kg of taurine into every Farmina N&D dog recipe.”
Premium food and treat manufacturer ZIWI has responded to the reports of DCM in July 2018 and again this past July. ZIWI Peak appeared twice in the 2019 FDA report.
“In both cases, the pet parent reported DCM symptoms while feeding another brand of food. Concerned, they switched from the brand they were feeding to ZIWI Peak. In fact, one case reported that upon switching to ZIWI Peak, the patient’s heart disease was resolved,” stated ZIWI’s 2019 release, which added that unlike most grain-free foods, ZIWI’s raw-inspired recipes contain up to 96 percent meat and is free from such carbohydrates as potatoes and lentils.
Other popular dog food and treat manufacturers like Grandma Lucy’s—whose Starters and Singles treats are wildly popular among dog owners—are responding to comments from their customers with such product lines as Moxie, a freeze-dried dog food that is made with human-quality meat and no grains, which acts as a scoop-and-serve meal or mixer. Founded by Erin and Breann Shook, the company utilizes a gentle, freeze-drying process that removes 92 percent of the water contained in Moxie’s ingredients, leaving a food that is lightweight, compact, shelf stable and preservative free.
Then there are brands that come from a familiar face. SquarePet is continuing a proven history of pet food innovation. Led by CEO Peter Atkins, the brand is being faithful to the mission he helped set forth decades ago with Natura Pet Products, the pioneer company he co-founded.
SquarePet entered the dog food market this fall with several formulas, including a high-meat, low-carb diet made without peas, legumes, lentils or potatoes for those consumers who like the nutrition delivered by a raw diet, and a meat-free, true vegetarian formula utilizing cage-free, whole eggs as the No. 1 ingredient.
“We only use ingredients we would feed to our families,” Atkins said. “If we wouldn’t eat it, it’s not in our pet foods.”
While profit margins vary among dog product categories, dependent on the retailers you speak to, toys commonly rank at or near the top of the list with profit margins of up to 70 percent. What leads consumer interest in dog toys tends to be durability, creative designs and patterns of play.
Dog toys have been experiencing enormous growth in recent years, and the 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.
Carrying the right toy isn’t enough, but how it’s presented 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.
When it comes to interactive toys, Mammoth Pet Products has been one of the innovators of dog toys since 1995, having more than 300 in its lineup. Mammoth promotes its TireBiter II line of toys as the toughest pound-for-pound toy on the market. Sustainably manufactured with an advanced natural rubber formula for long-lasting play, and designed for tossing and tugging to promote the human-animal bond, the TireBiter II line is 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed.
As for plush toys, none has been created that can be called indestructible. However, Fluff & Tuff has a reputation for making high-quality, durable toys that focus on the mouthfeel of its toys. Fluff & Tuff toys are crafted from ultra-plush fabric with double-stitched seams, securely stitched eyes and squeakers that are encased in sewn fabric pouches. Each toy has a thick, Tuffweb mesh liner that’s designed to reinforce the outer fabric.
New Jersey-based pet products designer Multipet International is a toy company known for creative designs. To take advantage of the holiday gift-giving dog owners, Multipet has added a Christmas spin to some of its everyday best-sellers.
“We are able to bring products that have proven traction, which makes buyers more secure with their purchasing decisions,” said Leslie Yellin, the company’s executive VP, in Pet Age’s July cover story, “Season of Giving.” “This year’s hot item for us is our Classic Lamb Chop with Reindeer Antlers, and [we also have] Lamb Chop in Santa hats for all of the different sizes we manufacture. Pet parents feel so rewarded when they see the happiness our toys can bring.”
Covering both interactive and plush toys is Petmate. The company is known for the iconic Chuckit! line of fetching toys, with fans of the performance toys easily recognizing their classic bright orange and blue colors. However, the company includes plenty of offerings from Aspen Pet for what it calls “soft mouth” dogs that have a tendency to gently pick up and hold or carry their beloved plush toys.
“Plush toys are the perfect style of toy to provide comfort for such dogs,” said Ryan Willis in “Ever Popular Plush,” Pet Age’s Trends and Products article for November 2016, when he was director of toys for Petmate. “The trend is to keep styles and designs fresh so they are appealing to pets and their parents. We have found that by incorporating stimulating sounds that appeal to dogs’ natural instincts, these toys are more engaging.”
That’s a trend that still continues to be popular today.
Health and More
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, allergies or skin ailments, such as hot spots, have options that can benefit their beloved pet. And dog owners are now paying attention to their pet’s bad breath, which means dental products from companies like Swedencare are getting more attention in the industry.
Gut health is an important aspect of dog health, with gut bacteria being crucial for digestion and obtaining nutrients from the food a dog eats. From weight to mental health, the microbiome affects almost every aspect of a dog’s health. And companies like Fidobiotics offer a much-needed solution to the often-overlooked issue of intestinal health.
Fidobiotics was founded by Mika Wheelwright after her family’s golden retriever experienced poor gut health from antibiotics following surgery. Wheelwright was inspired by her dog’s response to probiotics, and she also uses her product line to educate and teach the public about the importance of good gut health for pets. Fidobiotics supplements such as Good Guts, a probiotic/digestive enzyme, can be a valuable asset to a retailer’s profit margin.
“First, the small packaging—that little footprint means a bigger profit per square inch for your effort,” noted Wheelwright in “Better Belly Rubs,” the Fidobiotics Back Story profile this past October. “Next, it’s an easy add on sale to any customer, feeding any food—and they’ll thank you for it! Finally [for] pets who just can’t take other tummy fixes such as pumpkin or pectin, this is a great, and arguably better, alternative.”
Earth Animal, founded by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein, tackles dog health in a wide range of products, from Daily Health Nuggets and Nature’s Comfort Zen to its Nature’s Protection Flea & Tick Prevention Program.
With its No-Hide Chews and Brushed-On Benefits being wildly popular in the treats category, Earth Animal’s health products are perhaps having the biggest impact for companion dogs. The couple recently launched Nature’s Comfort, a full-spectrum hemp product that offers a unique Uptake Technology allowing rapid absorption. The special blend supports the immune system while helping animals maintain alertness and a normal, relaxed disposition.
The company is also at the forefront of flea and tick prevention. According to Susan Goldstein, the brand’s initial product for flea and tick prevention was its internal yeast powder, which was released in 1985. That was followed by the internal herbal powder, liquid herbal drops, shampoos and most recently the spot-on applicators, collars and insect spray.
“We came from the philosophy of stimulating the dog or cat’s own defense mechanisms as opposed to using a poison,” she said of the Earth Animal program, which offers a year-round prevention when the powders and drops are added to a dog’s daily diet.
While building the pet’s immune system, the combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs also helps change the odor of its blood to make it unappealing to such pests as fleas, ticks, mosquitos and black flies. For additional protection, the Goldsteins have combined Virginia cedar, peppermint and almond oil, which repel both fleas and ticks, in the herbal color, spot-on application and bug spray.
Other categories, including accessories and outdoor gear, remain steady performers that are necessities for retailers to carry. Companies like P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You), Indipets, Leather Brothers and VIP Engravers all have a long tradition in this sector by delivering beds, bowls, collars and dog tags that have become necessities to dog owners.
Grooming, too, is slowly catching on with dog owners. 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. This also enables them to check for fleas and ticks during the warmer months. And those dog owners who are daring even venture into trimming their companion’s nails.
The pet industry is booming, and experts feel that the dog sector will continue to rise. At the same time, the industry is ever changing, and brands need to remain conscious of consumer demands. Gone are the days of throwing something on a shelf and knowing consumers will buy it without any questions. The clean-label trend is firmly established, with manufacturers needing to offer full transparency on their ingredients list and how they source these items.
Manufacturers and retailers that answer the call and give dog owners what they seek will flourish in today’s extremely busy, hypercompetitive dog food market.