In the Raw

Stacy Mantle//August 1, 2016//

In the Raw

Stacy Mantle //August 1, 2016//

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The idea that healthy food creates a healthy mind and body is not new, but that philosophy is increasingly seen at work in the pet food industry.

According to new data from GfK, retail sales of raw freeze-dried dog food jumped nearly 64 percent from 2014-2015, while raw frozen pet food increased from $52 million to $69 million. At GfK’s point-of-sale panel in the US, freeze-dried products have shown the strongest sales growth at pet retail, but grain-free and other established categories remain most valuable players in the $7.6 billion pet food market.

Frozen and dehydrated foods are finding their place in retail. The costs of having a freezer on site or dealing with shorter shelf lives of preservative-free products may seem like a high price to pay, but retailers are learning that it’s well worth the added expense, as customers are willing to pay premiums for easy access to high-quality diets.

To succeed in this category, it’s imperative that retailers commit themselves to educating consumers about the benefits and how to transition their pets to a new diet. You can pique pet owners’ interest with displays that educate customers about the benefits of frozen and dehydrated diets.

“Retailers must have a strong understanding of how to communicate nutritional benefits,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager of marketing communications for WellPet. “A key approach to training employees on food labeling is understanding the order in which ingredients are listed, what the nutritional value and health benefits of these various ingredients are, and how each can satisfy different flavor preferences, lifestyles and nutritional needs.”

A strong sampling program for customers and employees is also important.

“Sampling and education are key,” said Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen. “One of the most effective programs we have at The Honest Kitchen is our Real Food Gurus program, which enables store associates to purchase our products at a ‘pro deal’ rate (with their first box absolutely free), so they can then have more meaningful conversations with pet owners about how the product works.”

“Protein from a meat source provides sustained energy and is burned completely and efficiently,” according to Tracy Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-owner of Radagast Pet Food. “Rad Cat Raw Diet is a premium, all-natural, complete and balanced raw frozen diet formulated exclusively for the domestic feline carnivore. We are the only ones on the market who produce grain-free, fruit-free, bone-free and vegetable-free whole food diets for cats.”

Primal Pet Foods also has a long history in the raw, frozen and dehydrated category. They offer a full line of raw meaty bones for dogs and cats to have as part of their daily feeding or as a treat to enhance their tooth, gum and jaw health.

“The Primal Pet Foods product line offers an easy way to keep your pet’s diet as close to nature as possible,” said Matt Koss, president of Primal Pet Foods. “For example, our domestic pork vendor follows Federal Guidelines for Antibiotic-Free Hogs and maintains strict control of sanitation, cleanliness and temperature. By eating raw foods and treats produced using the highest-quality raw materials available, your pet receives optimum nutrition through active enzymes, unprocessed amino acids, and necessary vitamins and minerals that are essential to a natural, long, happy and healthy life.”

For customers not yet ready to make the jump to a raw diet, food toppers are a great solution.

“We’ll continue to see a trend towards pet owners being more in charge of what they put in their pets’ bowls, meaning an increase in the customization of meal times, mix-in and topper products that add variety and nutritional elements that may not exist in their pets’ basic core diets,” Postins said. “This trend is another element of the humanization of pet food, and wanting to feed cats and dogs a more varied diet (that more closely resembles what humans eat) rather than a monotonous diet of ‘fast food’ every day without any variations.”

The Honest Kitchen recently unveiled Proper Toppers, a dehydrated crispy whole food solution that can be sprinkled or crumbled onto meals for added variety, as well as to boost nutrition and palatability.

“Proper Toppers are also nutritionally balanced and complete, so they can also be fed as the sole diet if desired—for example, for smaller breeds or when traveling,” Postins said.

Through the Sojos brand, WellPet offers a range of raw freeze-dried treats and complete diets for both cats and dogs. According to the Sojos website, all their products are grain-free as well.

“2016 is an exciting year for us,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior marketing communications manager at WellPet. “We started the year off by welcoming Minneapolis-based raw pet food company, Sojos, to the WellPet family to expand the breadth of WellPet’s offerings, as well as reach pet parents interested in the benefits of raw nutrition.”

“Slow and steady is the key to success,” according to Bette Schubert, co-founder of Bravo. “That same tried-and-true methodology applies to successfully transitioning your pet to a raw diet. Because sudden changes can disrupt your pet’s digestive system, it is important to gradually change your pet’s diet by slowly integrating the new raw food of choice into their existing diet over an extended period of time.”

It’s also important to emphasize convenience when feeding frozen or dehydrated foods. Most frozen raw foods come in easy-to-serve frozen patties, chubs or bite-sized chunks. The dehydrated foods are simple to pack and take along while traveling and easy to measure for more accurate feeding.

With so much opportunity to expand the customer base for raw pet diets, Koss sees unlimited potential for the category and his company.

“The sky’s the limit, but we have a lot of work to do,” Koss said.