Pet Age recently spoke with Rick Ruffolo, CEO and president of Phelps Pet Products, to learn more about how the brand is setting itself apart from its competition in the competitive treat market.
What has propelled your business since Phelps exhibited at Global Pet Expo in 2020?
We shifted our focus as a company from being a “me-too/low-priced” private label contract manufacturer to becoming a trend-driven, innovation leader in the dog treats market. That really came to life at Global in 2020 when we were first-to-market with 100 percent plant-based (meatless) jerky dog treats. We went further and became the first dog treat manufacturer to be a member of the Upcycled Food Association. We also created a one-of-a-kind program for the independent pet retailers called the Phelps Private Brand Collection, which enables these retailers to carry “own brand” dog treats without the cost of R&D, feed testing, packaging development or high MOQs. These and other “clean-label” innovations we offer including USDA Organic, MSC sustainable salmon bites and “functional” ingredient dog treats have enabled our partners to better differentiate their brands in the dog treats market.
Why should retailers be carrying plant-based treats?
We all understand how “humanization” trends have driven growth in the dog food/dog treats market over the last few decades. Well, there is no bigger trend in human food at the moment than “plant-based” products. Ask any grocery retailer – the market is being driven by this trend. We uncovered that insight, developed several great-tasting jerky recipes and launched it at Global in 2020. A year later, you can see this trend is making a major impact in the dog treat market with several brands and retailers offering our proprietary 100 percent plant-based recipes. The plant-based trend was booming prior to the pandemic, and like many trends, has had a tremendous boost during the pandemic as people had the opportunity to evaluate their lifestyle choices. While it is not yet the majority of either the human or dog market, it is by far the fastest-growing segment, and all retailers have more and more shoppers looking for plant-based (meatless) options in their assortment.
How do you see the upcycling movement fitting into the dog treat market?
Upcycling is another emerging “humanization” trend, and companies like Imperfect Foods are offering consumers the opportunity to make choices that help reduce waste in the U.S. food processing and distribution market. As the first dog treat manufacturer to become a member of The Upcycled Food Association, we wanted to do our part at reducing the nearly 40 percent of healthy, great-tasting food that is wasted through the current system. We have started to use the phrase “rescuing nutritious foods” as a way to simply express the benefits of eating upcycled. The upcycled fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and other ingredients all have 100 percent of their flavor and nutritional value. Using these items in our recipes is a great fit for the dog/cat treat market as many pet parents are aware of the environment, the importance of sustainability and the need to eliminate waste. We are seeing the cost of upcycled ingredients is comparable to the cost of other ingredients, so we can typically produce recipes with upcycled ingredients at the same or similar cost to conventional products.
What exciting news do you have for the pet industry in 2021?
The biggest news for 2021 is the announcement that the Walt Disney Company is investing in the dog treats market with the launch of the Disney licensed dog treats program under the new brand name Table Scraps. This Disney/Table Scraps dual-brand dog treats line brings together the iconic and lovable characters from some of Disney and Pixar’s greatest movies in a premium quality, yet affordable line. Although the Disney characters, marketing support and storylines certainly would be compelling on their own, we took a big step further by bringing together all of the best humanization recipe trends into one line. This line literally has it all. Each treat features upcycled ingredients, are made in the USA and contain no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, meat by-products, grain, corn or soy. Additionally, the initial eight SKUs include something for everyone such as certified USDA Organic Chicken & Turkey recipes, Marine Stewardship Council certified salmon bites and “meat-first” Super Food recipes, along with two 100 percent Plant-Based (meatless) items. The Table Scraps line will be available across all premium channels of distribution, and we are looking forward to welcoming the “magic of Disney” to the dog treat category.
What is Phelps doing to support independent pet retailers?
First, we believe the Disney/Table Scraps line is perfect for independent pet retailers and will become the No. 1 requested item once awareness of this line is established. Secondly, we have created the Phelps Wellness Collection to enable any independent pet retailer, groomer or other professional to market their own line of dog treats without the cost of R&D, testing, inventory, or packaging. Private Label/Own Brand products are the No. 1 source of growth in the market, and with this innovative program, these retailers can improve the profitability of their assortment by selecting up to 10 different recipes including USDA Organic, 100 percent Plant-Based and a variety of Super Food recipes. We will produce the treats with their logo/design integrated in professionally-designed packaging.