Pet Age recently spoke with Vicki Wagner, who purchased Kennelmaster Foods in 2012 with her sister Joann Bennett.
Can you tell us what motivates you to produce the Kennelmaster treats that you do?
Kennelmaster treats were a top-seller in my retail store Silly Willie’s. We had a huge following with our customers for the original Doggie Chicken Chips which, at the time, was the only product Kennelmaster Foods made. When we learned that the owner was going out of business and that we were going to lose the beloved Chicken Chips we knew we couldn’t let that happen, so we bought Kennelmaster Foods and began producing them ourselves. Our plan was to produce enough to supply Silly Willie’s and a few loyal customers. However, the popularity of Doggie Chicken Chips has landed Chip’s Naturals products in over 700 locations nationwide. Knowing that we were providing such a healthy treat that dogs couldn’t get enough of was all the motivation we needed to expand the Chip’s Naturals line by developing more, equally healthy and popular, treats such as Sweet Taters, Beefy Bites, Liver Slivers and, our newest product, Hickory Smoked Chicken Stix. We are vitally involved in the day-to-day production and know we will never tire of hearing comments like, “Keep those doggie chicken chips coming because my dog won’t eat any other treat!” It brings great satisfaction knowing that we have created a highly sought-after line of treats that our customers trust. We’ve had customers tell us that the sale of our Doggie Chicken Chips pays their rent. That’s something unique and special.
Why have you chosen to go with the dehydration process for producing your treats? And what are the benefits of single-ingredient or limited-ingredient dog treats?
We prefer the dehydration process for our treats because by dehydrating you get the nutritional benefits of raw while removing the dangerous pathogens present in raw meat. The process alone is a method of preservation so artificial preservatives and ingredients are not needed. Single ingredient pet treats have become a necessary component in pet nutrition that retailers cannot deny. Pet owners demonstrate this every day in their efforts to avoid artificial, potentially harmful and unnecessary ingredients coupled with their desire to give their pets lots of treats. Consequently, the demand for single ingredient treats is higher than ever before.
Do you think treat packaging plays an important role with consumers?
Absolutely. To that point, it took me over six months to bring Chicken Chips into my store after I was initially introduced to them. I didn’t like the look of the packaging and I knew, if they were going to be a big seller, I would have to do a lot of convincing to my customers and sampling to their dogs. Immediately upon acquiring the company I changed the packaging.
With a degree in graphic design and a little OCD, I began developing our brand. A crucial element to driving our growth is how our products are presented. We have a dedicated marketing team that works tirelessly on our brand recognition and bringing my ideas to fruition. Our packaging design is bright, colorful, highly visible and compliments each product throughout the line. First impression is everything. Our loyal customers benefit greatly by our brightly colored packaging as it is instantly recognizable. They become accustomed to our look and know immediately when they have a package of our treats in hand and so do their dogs.
What new treats have you recently released or are hitting the market later this year?
Kennelmaster Foods has been working hard to develop a treat in the fish category that would follow the Chip’s Naturals model of single or low ingredient treats. We’re excited to be introducing our new single ingredient Doggie Salmon Snacks early this fall. Aside from the obvious benefits of offering a treat rich in vitamins and healthy skin and coat promoting Omega-3 we knew by offering a salmon treat, that dogs and cats really liked, we would have an awesome treat for the pets that couldn’t eat our chicken or beef treats. These all natural, 100 percent pure wild salmon, crunchy dehydrated treats are quickly going to be the newest favorite treat, in the Chip’s Naturals line.
What does a partnership with Kennelmaster look like for retailers?
We focus on having our Chip’s Naturals treats in independent pet stores and boutiques, groomers and veterinarians who are experts in the pet industry. Our authorized retailers vary from local mom and pop stores to your favorite veterinarian’s office to national chains. All of our retailers have to pass a rigorous approval process before they can become an authorized retailer. We want our products represented by pet professionals that we know can appreciate the value associated with producing high quality premium treats. To protect our retailers from unauthorized sellers eroding the value of our products by offering price discounts we do not permit our products to be sold in big box stores, closeout vendors, flea markets or open-air vendors, nor do we allow sales on third party websites such as Etsy, eBay and Chewy. Amazon sales are done only through exclusively approved Amazon sellers and are closely monitored by a professional outside firm. We are highly accessible to our retail partners for support and offer a wide array of marketing materials for them to use in their own marketing. The relationships we hold with our retailers are of the utmost importance to us and we believe that’s proven with our transparency, honesty and dedication to our long returning clients.