Whether it be on the East coast, middle of the country or the West coast, retailers across the country are hearing the same feedback from their customers regarding food and treat products. The humanization trend is fueling the demand for natural, high-quality products that don’t break the bank. Pet parents are looking for more than traditional kibble food and biscuit treats. Instead, they are seeking innovative products that don’t compromise nutrition or palpability as well as transparency from the brand on how the product is made and what it is made from.
Vincent Sheehan, owner of Katie’s Pet Depot in New Jersey, says his customers are looking for something natural with a high-level of nutrition that will help prolong their pets’ lives and in a healthier way.
“I think they’re trying to avoid artificial ingredients, an excess number of preservatives and are looking for products that are going to make a difference,” he added.
Although pet parents should be doing their own research prior to buying products, they may walk into your store needing direction and guidance. This places more emphasis on the importance of vetting products before bringing them into your store. For Sheehan, although he has a list of requirements he would like the products to meet, that is not always the case. However, he says he looks for foods that are manufactured by the name on the label and seeks out small, independently owned brands.
“We also spend a lot of time studying the ingredient panels, making sure that most of the protein is meat source. When it comes to treats we look for limited ingredients. For example, if we buy a jerky we want it to have no more than one to three ingredients,” said Sheehan. “We want our foods to be more natural, and we’d like the companies we work with to manufacture them in a more sustainable way so that we protect the environment.”
Meat as a protein source is nothing new, however, exotic proteins are now hitting the market. Wild boar, kangaroo, alligator and even ostrich are being used as the main ingredient in some pet products. This is a jump from what people are used to seeing in that beef, chicken, turkey are the most commonly known proteins. However, for those animals with allergies, exotic proteins may be the holy grail product.
In order to get customers used to a new product, Blake Gipson, owner of Garden of the Paws in Colorado, says he “will break open a bag of treats and give it to the dogs when they enter the store, and so I do a testing. When a customer purchases either [a food product] or treats, I’m very big on feedback.”
Exotic proteins provide an alternative diet for the animals that have a food allergy or sensitivity.
“I sell a lot of exotic proteins like kangaroo and wild boar. Allergies are really a big problem for those clients so offering them a novel protein really goes a long way in helping their dogs and/or cats as allergy sufferers,” said Gipson.
Although not every customer will be seeking out these types of products, it’s helpful to keep an exotic protein option on your shelves for those who do. It’s imperative that pet food companies pay closer attention than usual to auditing their suppliers and testing ingredients and finished diets when working with these types of proteins.
The food and treat category has been proven resilient. When pet owners have a problem, brands are eager to provide a solution. Pet Age contacted a wide array of pet food and treat manufacturers to learn their views on where these essential pet sectors are headed and their recommendations to retailers to help better serve pet parents.
What strategic advice do you have for retailers on where and how to display their food and treat offerings to boost their sales?
Annamaet Petfoods: (Robert Downey) End caps tend to provide the best visual as products stand alone as opposed to being swallowed up by competing products on long continuous shelving down an aisle. Treats do best by the counter as they can be impulse buys similar to candy near the check-out counter at grocery stores.
San Fransisco Bay Brand (SFBB): (Jason Oneppo) Frozen foods sell best when displayed in a glass-door freezer using spring-loaded freezer trays. Customers can easily view the products through the glass, and the trays keep the shelves organized. For dry products, it is essential to keep the shelves fronted and dust off the products now and then; pet stores generate a lot of dust, which can accumulate on the packaging in just a short amount of time; this makes the product appear old.
Precious Cat: (Gina Zaro) Retailers can help make the experience easy by organizing and displaying food based on specific aspects, such as high protein or diet type. They can also offer education at the shelf, and try to offer guidance to each customer, switching foods is a big deal.
NPIC: (Sam Chen) One of the common mistakes pet parents might make is just going with the big brands without much research. While the products are commercially competitive, they might not be the best for your pets. I believe this is where the retailers play a critical role as an educator and an influencer, and to leverage the valuable space for such education. Whether it is by pet life stage, functional areas or simply product types like many are doing now, with the knowledge they have about the pets and the products, retailers are positioned to guide the pet parents through a shopping journey that has become increasingly confusing and complicated.
Inaba: (Diane Dale) Place treats in secondary locations for impulse buys, such as near the register, utilizing display vehicles when possible. For example, Inaba ships product in inner trays that can be used for display and has small foot print free standing displays that take minimal space. Also, put on clip strips in food aisles and near popular shopped items like litter for high visibility of cat treats.
Open Farm: (Mark Sapir) We have seen retailers have success creating treats destinations, also given a very impulsive purchase and nice add-on and when integrated or clip-stripped into the food section seen really strong incremental sales.
Wild Earth: (Ryan Bethencourt) Pet parents want the best for their pup, and feeding fido a balanced, nutritionally complete dog food with high-quality ingredients is often the number one priority for consumers. Many conventional meat-based kibble and treats currently on the market are made from extremely low quality meat sources. Additionally, when using treats for positive reinforcement, pet parents are looking for nutritious, low calorie options to prevent obesity and over feeding — a common problem for pets. At Wild Earth, we give pet parents peace of mind by creating plant-based, cruelty-free dog food and treats through careful formulation and ingredient selection.
Shameless Pets: (Allison Sparks) Since treats can be an impulse buy for consumers, the more you can put them within eyesight, the better. Whether that’s at the checkout lane, on end caps in secondary placements near the pet toys or on special front of store displays, the more opportunity you will have for consumers to build their basket size. Shameless Pets has seen a lot of success when we are able to partner with retailers on secondary displays in-store.
SquarePet: (Tyler Atkins) Displaying pet food where consumers can easily see and reach it is important in encouraging sales. This is particularly important for emerging brands because consumers should be able to pick up the pet food and read ingredients and other details on the bag. If pet food is placed too high on shelves, it may be difficult to reach, and consumers will opt for an easier to reach option. We also encourage our retailers to be educated and available to answer consumer questions about the SquarePet product line.
Earth Animal: (Susan Goldstein) We believe that listening to the pet parent and understanding the dog or cats’ individual wellness or healing needs and matching them to the appropriate food is first and foremost strategically. Displaying the foods by brand, protein, flavors together and separating dog and cat is important for location ease. As an example, fish products should be in one space. Manufacturing processing and food technology deserve separate visual attention as well. Examples could be that raw, air-dried, freeze-dried, kibble and canned should have their own space. Benefits should be loud and clear and shouted from the rafters. Last but certainly not least, we recommend demos throughout the store. Foods with visual appeal work best and may be placed in wooden bowls on tables for a tactile experience. Successful sales of treats are a “walk in the park” by placing the retailer’s favorites at the register and offering samples. Treats look great in baskets and jars. We suggest a weekly treat feature, by opening the bag and offering a “taste test.” The product of the week is sure to sell.
Made by Nacho: (Julie Nelson) Start with your highly visible displays — end caps or aisle shippers — and make them feel new and exciting for your customer. We’re looking out for a full regime of new products, from dry to wet, plus toppers and treats, with a particular focus on products that have multiple uses. One of Made by Nacho’s signature products is bone broth — it can be used to enhance a meal with more hydration, make mealtime feel more like a treat, or be a snack all on its own. It also pairs well with our kibble and with our new canned recipes. So I’d look out for displays that feature reasons to believe like that. And then highlight your premium brands — that’s what will appeal to your highest value customer.
Great American Pet: (John Bosserman) Create an “All American” end cap or display area reserved for pet products that are made and sourced in the U.S.A. It’s proven that customers will pay more for products made in the U.S.A. because they correctly perceive that it is healthier and safer for their dogs.
Champion Petfoods: (Ernie Ambrose) We recommend retailers cross-merchandise premium treats near the brand’s respective premium dry food products. ORIJEN and ACANA makes dry food, wet food, and freeze-dried food and treats. Adding a clip strip of ORIJEN Freeze-Dried Treats next to the shelf where a pet parent finds ORIJEN dry food can be a simple yet effective way to boost sales. It makes it easier for the consumer and can turn them on to a new product they might not have known about.
Supreme Petfoods: (Claire Hamblion) Our research shows that shoppers can find it difficult to find the small pet product they want – the fixture is often cluttered with species, lifestage and complementary foods making it hard for the retailer to categorize clearly. We also found that this confusion could affect the whole shopping experience – many small pet owners have multiple pets and shop to first meet the need perceived to be the most complex – that of their small pet. It’s been our mission for some time to solve this issue through planograms, clear packaging that blocks effectively and excellent POS material. If implemented, this can increase basket fill and the number of satisfied shoppers.
Jones Natural Chews: (Laura Jones) Impulse purchases, right at the counter, can be a great way to generate incremental spend. Pet ownership should be a fun and rewarding experience, but keeping them cared for can feel like a chore. Welcoming, entertaining and convenience-based displays can help retailers achieve the feel good aspects while alleviating the more chore-like aspects of running errands. Clear signage can be a great way to help direct customers, and if you can find a way to make your informational signage a tad fun- that is a win.
K9 Granola Factory: (Amy Wineka) Displays that connect with buyers often get the best response. Make sure that the items you want to highlight or introduce are well-lit and stand out from the crowd. We also encourage stores to create an interactive environment. At K9 Granola Factory, we help our stores incorporate our Coffee for People and Donuts for Dogs line into their customer experience. We offer guidance on setting up coffee bars and running corresponding promotions, such as offering a free cup of coffee to anyone that purchases a gourmet doggy donut. This creates a fun shopping experience while building loyalty and trust.
Fromm Family Foods: (Bryan Nieman) Leverage your social media channels. A quick informative video, taken with a cellphone, featuring a product (new or a store staple) can cut through the noise on Facebook or Instagram. If you’re not comfortable with video, a thoughtfully composed photo can also entice a store visit you would have never had otherwise.
Frankly Pet: (Alan Snyder) Treats and chews deserve their own dedicated aisle in stores. It also helps to group specific categories within the aisle, such as all natural, baked, freeze dried, training and more. Displaying the proper signage, as well as any informational materials like shelf talkers and danglers, is also important as it helps consumers learn more about the products and easily find what they’re looking for. Oftentimes treats are an impulse purchase so displaying them in an aisle that leads to the register or on end caps helps. Many retailers have a natural chew and treat display at the front of the store to further stand out to shoppers.
Phelps Pet Products: (Rick Ruffolo) For pet specialty retailers — the answer is to “make it simple.” Your shoppers already have chosen to come to your pet store; they are there to buy. Make it easy with full, organized and well-merchandised shelves with easy navigation. For example, don’t spread dog products all over the store. Focus them in a section to make it easier/quicker to shop. Create “events” that capture shopper attention and imagination such as Disney’s 100th anniversary in 2023 with a Table Scraps Disney dog treats display featuring Mickey, or celebrate the holidays with Disney Christmas Bark featuring Olaf and the characters from Frozen.
Natural Cravings: (Lucy Caprez) The best advice I would give to retailers on product placement in their stores is to place items that earn you the most profit at eye level. The same concept can be used for new products or items that you want to sell quickly. Customers in general want items that are in their vision range. Think of your average buyer, consider whether they are male or female and place these items at their eye level. For bulk items we highly recommend placing them at the dog’s nose level, because they are the ultimate customer; they are the ones that are coming with their human, and they are the ones to entice. When it comes to small impulse items, make room at the register or create a queue line filled with ready to grab items that the customer can pick up at the last minute. This is a trick used more and more by big box and grocery stores — because it works.
Barkworthies: (Marsha Endres) When considering the best position for dog treats and chews, it is important to remember consumers are typically going to purchase essentials – dog food. Displaying your best-selling brands toward the back of the store helps boost sales of other products because consumers will pass these items as they go to the product they came for. A well merchandised inline set of dog chews where the consumer can shop your full assortment is important, but it is also important to have ‘off-aisle’ offerings that catch the consumer’s eye when shopping for other products or checking out. Chews and treats that are placed on Clip Strips in the same aisle as food always makes for a great impulsive buy.
Kennelmaster Foods: (Vicki Wagner) We advise our retailers that one of the best ways to boost sales is by committing adequate space to showcase an entire line. This displays a strong confidence in the brands they offer and also creates add on sales. At Kennelmaster Foods, we believe once brand recognition and confidence has been established, highly visible well stocked displays with packaging that has consistent colorful designs offer the highest selling opportunities.
Sabrini’s Royal Treats: (Susan Traub) Featuring treats in store front windows may be one of the oldest and still one of the best ways to advertise to the consumer available products. Featuring dog treats at check out in markets where dog treats are sold would also boost the category.
Stella & Chewy’s: (Gina Nicklas) To boost sales of food and treat offerings, Stella & Chewy’s considers five entry points: puppy and kitten life stages, customers seeking something better for their pet, encouragement for picky eaters, solutions for ailments, and treats. Retailers should work to understand what the customer is seeking to then help lead to one of the entry points. Retailers can also effectively merchandise by showing customers how Stella & Chewy’s items can be used to boost their pet’s bowl. For example, show how freeze-dried raw Meal Mixers can be topped onto our freeze-dried raw coated kibble to entice picky eaters and provide high protein and raw power, or how Carnivore Cravings can be topped on their cats freeze-dried raw kibble to provide them both moisture and protein rich, raw nutrition. Lastly, retailers can display a range of protein options with the explanation of why protein rotation is important. Protein rotation helps in keeping pets excited about mealtime, helping reduce food related allergies and intolerances, improving digestion and making for tougher immune systems, and providing improved nutritional balance. Overall, education is important. Many pet parents are new to feeding natural and raw diets so any ways retailers can educate will help.
What do you consider to be the top priorities among consumers when it comes to pet food and treats?
Annamaet Petfoods: (Robert Downey) The market has really changed. It wasn’t that long ago that 90 percent of the pet owners in the U.S. couldn’t tell the difference from the best pet food to the worst pet food because they didn’t worry about coat, stool quality, or life expectancy of their pet. This changing market is due in large part to the growing trend towards the humanization of pets. In the U.S., 95 percent of dog and cat owners now consider their pets to be essential part of the family, like children. Pet parents today are much more concerned with the health and well-being of their beloved pets, especially the quality of ingredients. They want family-owned and operated companies. They are choosing smaller brands over the big brands they don’t trust.
SFBB: (Jason Oneppo) Current trends point to consumers wanting natural and beneficial treats for their pets. Healthful treats could serve as a form of enrichment, where the pet must work for a treat. Another example is something that enhances the appearance of the pet, for instance, something that makes bright colors pop such as the natural astaxanthin in krill that brightens the red and orange coloration of fish.
Precious Cat: (Gina Zaro) Customers want to know how a specific food or treat will help their cat live a healthy lifestyle. Cat owners are more educated than they ever have been, and they want to understand specifics about the ingredients and dietary composition. It’s also important for cat owners to feel confident their cat will eat the food or treat, cats can be picky and texture driven.
NPIC: (Sam Chen) As pet humanization and premiumization continue to be strong trends in the pet industry, one key behavior we observe is that the pet parents are paying more and more attention to what they give to the pets and thus the ingredients used in a product, which reflects a behavior change that happened a few years ago when it comes to shopping for human food/snack. We must re-think the product development philosophy and streamline the process when it comes to formulating and manufacturing. When the pet parents no longer purchase products with 30 ingredients and try to stay away from ingredients they cannot pronounce, we surely want to provide viable alternatives and I think NPIC has been doing a very good job so far. For example, the Get Naked Biteables Cat Soft Treats have about 10-12 ingredients and we have four functions – Kitten Health, Digestive Health, Essential Health and Urinary Health – for the consumers to choose from.
Inaba: (Diane Dale) Consumers want treats that are healthy and offer some type of benefit. Inaba treats are all about increasing hydration for pets. Like humans, hydration is key to keeping our bodies in good health. When pets do not get enough hydration, it can lead to other problems like urinary tract infections and kidney disease. There has been a huge increase in popularity of toppers, side dishes and compliments for food. Many pets can be picky eaters, and adding a little wet to their dry food usually increases palatability. Lickable treats like Inaba Churu are perfect to be used as a topper for wet/dry food, as a side dish in a bowl, or to hide pills making them go down easier and more likely to be swallowed.
Open Farm: (Mark Sapir) Pet food is a heavy decision. As ingredients, nutrition and recipe design becomes more meaningful, treats tend to be a less heavy decision. Pet parents are willing to be more promiscuous, but still want quality and we have seen a shift to more premium treats. Consumers are a bit more open to trying more variety and different ingredients. We have seen a trend for treats to be a bit more fun and whimsical and pet parents give that space permission. When it comes to food, there is less room to be whimsical, as pet parents want more serious nutrition they can trust.
Shameless Pets: (Allison Sparks) We know today’s consumers are health conscious and many of the same health trends they choose in their own consumption are important to them in their pet’s consumption as well. Each Shameless Pets treat flavor delivers a unique health benefit, and we’ve seen consumers respond positively when they know they are treating their pet while delivering them nutrition, plus benefiting the planet.
PureBites: (Stuart Menten) In the past, limited, simple and high-quality ingredients were not as much of a focus as they are now. As pet parents become more aware of what they are putting into their own bodies, it’s spilling over to all members of the family, including their pets. They are now seeking out products with simple ingredients that they know and trust, with no fillers, preservatives and artificial ingredients. At PureBites, we are uniquely positioned to meet this trend with our RAW freeze dried, gently air-dried and wet treats, toppers, food and mixers for dogs and cats.
SquarePet: (Tyler Atkins) Pet parents consider their pets a part of the family and they want the best nutrition to support their overall health. Product ingredients are important as are the specific nutritional benefits of pet food. If consumers have a very active breed, they want high protein nutrition to support this active lifestyle. If their pet is older, they will want an option to encourage healthy weight, joint health and reduce overall inflammation.
Earth Animal: (Susan Goldstein) Top priorities have to do with personal needs based upon the current health and age of the animal. Pet parents are seeking condition specific solutions to be performed by food. They are very concerned with who makes the product, where it is made and what is in the product. Safety and quality control is everything these days. We’ve all got the scars to prove their importance. In other words, the consciousness of the company matters.
Made by Nacho: (Julie Nelson) The cat has to like it. That’s always the most important thing to a customer, and to everyone here at Made by Nacho. If Nacho doesn’t eat it, we don’t make it. Plus, cats have specific nutritional needs and unique palates. They’re discerning carnivores without a high thirst drive, so premium protein and anything that pushes more hydration into their diet is a focus for us. Finding brands that put cats first and really understand how to care for them is absolutely essential.
Great American Pet: (John Bosserman) We are contacted by customers all the time wanting very specific information about our sourcing and manufacturing processes. Their top priorities seem to be safety, healthfulness of the product, and honesty from the manufacturer to stand behind the claims they make about their products.
Champion Petfoods: (Ernie Ambrose) Quality is one of the top priorities among pet lovers when it comes to pet food and treats. As pet parents continue to view their dogs and cats as important members of the family, they want to know they are feeding premium, nutritious products that offer functional benefits and support overall health. Pet parents are looking for food and treats made with familiar ingredients they’re used to seeing in their own meals. That’s why ORIJEN and ACANA food and treats feature quality ingredients like free-run poultry, wild-caught fish and ranch-raised red meats.
Supreme Petfoods: (Claire Hamblion) Both fill different gaps but with some crossover. With kibble for small pets, people are looking for a food that meets their pet’s nutritional and lifestyle needs – our Supreme Selective House Rabbit is a good example. Increasingly, they are educated about nutrition and are looking for high fiber foods for herbivores. But they also want their pet to obviously enjoy their food and the interaction that feeding time offers is very important for bonding. We often recommend techniques that encourage foraging, such as scattering kibble in hay to help encourage natural behaviors. With treats, enjoyment and experience comes first but not at the expense of nutrition. Treats that can be handed by the pet and different shapes and textures that stimulate different behaviors are especially sought after.
Jones Natural Chews: (Laura Jones) Recipe is the top priority. Ensuring quality ingredients are used and that your pet is getting a nutritionally sound meal is important to pet parents. Increasingly, I would also mention availability and affordability. Knowing that the products you trust are available is important to owners who research their pet’s diet.
K9 Granola Factory: (Amy Wineka) The top priority we are seeing is parents looking for human-grade food products made with natural, limited ingredients. Though the taste and experience are important, buyers want to ensure all food sources align with the pet’s overall dietary needs. At K9 Granola Factory, our Pumpkin Crunchers are low in fat, and rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, and other vitamins and minerals. These popular treats also boast a fun pinwheel shape and a crunch dogs love. Our Pumpkin Crunchers are the type of reward that is fun for pups while also supporting the pet’s diet.
Fromm Family Foods: (Bryan Nieman) By and large the top priority among most consumers in regards to food is finding a food that is going to deliver the best possible nutrition for their pet while offering every day convenience. Treats are less scrutinized and I tend to see pet parents gravitate more towards unique treats or those that deliver a greater variety.
Frankly Pet: (Alan Snyder) A top priority among consumers when shopping for their pets is purchasing products that are made with natural, healthy ingredients and avoiding ones that contain fillers or anything artificial. Products that are made and sourced in the U.S.A. are usually favored, as well. When it comes to treats and chews specifically, consumers often seek functionality. They look for products that serve a specific purpose, whether it’s a low-cal treat for training, a long-lasting chew to occupy an energetic puppy or ingredients that promote healthy skin, coat, joints, etc.
Polkadog: (Deb Suchman) With easy access to various marketplace formats and many different types of pet treats, consumers expect reliable, available information. When Polkadog cooks a new treat, we always talk about sustainability. Are we using the healthiest ingredients, using the entire product without waste? Do we trust the fishermen and farmers? For us, sustainability means eco-friendly production practices and inter-business relationships. But for consumers, sustainability also includes the relationship they have with our brand.They want our story, our mission. When they buy Polkadog treats, they’re also buying us. They’re buying into a sustainable, transparent and consistent relationship.
Phelps Pet Products: (Rick Ruffolo) Consumers repeatedly have demonstrated they want to treat their dogs as a member of the family. That means they read labels and want treats with specialty premium ingredients. They know and trust the USDA Certified Organic seal. They are looking for key claims such as Marine Stewardship Council certified salmon, products with functional benefits, or recipes with recognizable “super food” ingredients such as blueberries, cranberries and flaxseed. Some are looking for other benefits such as “upcycled ingredients” or made in the U.S.A. Of course, in the end, the only thing that really matters is whether their dogs love the treats.
Natural Cravings: (Lucy Caprez) The big priorities for customers when it comes to food and treats for their pups are simple. Most customers ask themselves whether their dog will like it – is it palatable? Will it be good for the dog? What are the benefits? And, is it on their budget? Notice the budget is last on their mind. Pet owners looking for bargains are not the primary customer of i/p, their target customer is first informed, then emotional and at last they consider the price. Price point is not as a sensitive issue as it is for a bargain buyer.
Barkworthies: (Andres Blades) Based on surveys and engagement to help us with the voice of the customer, we find that natural chews that incorporate desirable health benefits for dogs continue to be a priority. Consumers continue to evolve their understanding around the overall wellness of their dogs. We see that in their consideration of the mental, behavioral and physical benefits and how those play into their dog’s overall quality of life. It’s also important to remember many consumers treat out of love for their dogs as a top priority, so ensuring safety, quality and health value is critical.
Kennelmaster Foods: (Vicki Wagner) The quest for premium natural ingredients free of wheat corn and soy, artificial colors and preservatives has been a driving factor behind the creation of our “Original Doggie Chicken Chips” and the demand shows no sign of slowing down. With the pandemic came the increased demand for low calorie functional treats as pet parents working from home are reaching for the treat jar more frequently.
Sabrini’s Royal Treats: (Susan Traub) I feel the trend continues to move in the direction of consumers looking toward healthy foods which have nutritional value for their pets.
Stella & Chewy’s: (Gina Nicklas) One of the top priorities of pet parents is feeding their pets biologically appropriate diets. For cats and dogs, this means raw and raw inspired, protein and meat forward, and minimally processed. Pet parents want the best for their pets, so it is important to be transparent about ingredients and for ingredients to be responsibly sourced. They want to feed their pet something that will keep them healthy and prevent any medical issues. A healthy diet is seen to maintain good health and not something to switch to when problems arise. Raw diets are a great way to help keep a healthy weight and shiny coat, cleaner teeth, support stronger muscle, bone and joint health, and help improve energy. Raw food also tastes incredible to satisfy picky eaters and contains no hidden ingredients that can affect allergies.
How does packaging play a role in the success of pet food and treats?
Annamaet Petfoods: (Robert Downey) Pet parents today want simple packaging, a clear and concise message without a lot of clutter. Sustainability is becoming a major concern for people worldwide with a record high 71 percent of Americans considering the environment when they shop. Sustainable packaging provides the retailer with another positive option to promote. Making sustainability a core strategy can improve customer loyalty and employee relations.
SFBB: (Jason Oneppo) Some packaging plays a role in ease of use; For instance, San Francisco Bay Brand’s Betta Food & Treat is packaged in an easy-to-dispense flip-top container that helps prevent overfeeding. Also, packaging products in clear packaging or packaging with a window, pet parents like to see what the product looks like and not just rely on a picture on the package. You also want an eye-catching packaging/label design that allows the customer to quickly tell what the product is and what it is used for, along with highlighting the benefits of using the treat.
Precious Cat: (Gina Zaro) Packaging needs to deliver a strong message and clearly highlight the nutritional profile and key benefits. Customers want to know why a food or treat is specifically a good fit for their cats, and understand the quality and sourcing of the ingredients. Packaging also needs to be easy to use, store and be made of environmentally friendly materials if possible.
NPIC: (Sam Chen) We think of packaging as the first impression of a product in front of the consumer. It plays a very important role in the success of pet food and treats because a strong packaging design helps the product stand out and catch the attention of consumer from a very busy shelf. It also has a longer-term implication as the packaging helps builds the brand identity. That said, it only matters when the food and treats inside the packaging can meet the expectations set by the outstanding packaging.
Open Farm: (Mark Sapir) Packaging is important, both in terms of the quality of packaging as well presentation. Much focus is held on the quality of material, packaging ability to ensure integrity of product, closure system to ensure product convenience, and of course, presentation matters as well. Manufacturers are very thoughtful on communication, and hierarchy, branding, look and feel, all need to work together.
Wild Earth: (Ryan Bethencourt) Manufacturers of dog food and treats have a responsibility to ensure pet parents know exactly what they’re feeding their pet. Good packaging helps educate consumers, and give them peace of mind, by clearly displaying the ingredient mix, guaranteed analysis, feeding chart and the Association of American Feed Control Officials nutritional adequacy statement. Pet parents should always carefully read the packaging when selecting dog food and treats to ensure they’re giving their pet healthy ingredients to help their pup thrive.
Shameless Pets: (Allison Sparks) Packaging is key to helping communicate the benefits of pet food and treat products to consumers. At Shameless Pets, we prioritize communicating treat format and health benefits as we know that’s how consumers typically shop the treat aisle.
PureBites: (Stuart Menten) Recyclable packaging is a key factor, as 74 percent of consumers would pay for more for sustainable packaging (Trivium Packaging & Boston Consulting Group). PureBites has partnered with How2Recycle and we are currently transitioning all our packaging to recyclable materials to reduce our environmental footprint. This initiative is important to us as we strive to make the lives of pets and pet parents happier and healthier. As a pure company where all our treats are made with limited ingredients, this initiative could help reduce waste, save raw materials, energy, water and reduce pollution.
SquarePet: (Tyler Atkins) Packaging is important to the success of pet food because it is the first thing that consumers see when discovering a new brand. The packaging needs to be attractive and clear on communicating the differentiators of the pet food. If the text is too small or crowded, or if the packaging is unclear on the nutritional benefits, then consumers will move onto the next option. Packaging should also help to keep the food fresh — our four pound bags include seals that close tightly and ensure that the food remains in its optimal state.
Earth Animal: (Susan Goldstein) Packaging plays a huge role as well as POS materials in a successful selling environment. Windows on the front of the package displaying what’s inside (the bag or box) are highly effective, along with simple and bold messaging. Consumers do not need a dissertation.
Made by Nacho: (Julie Nelson) We believe that good design is essential to a good product. It’s the first thing that the customer sees and has the unique ability — particularly in pet food — to connect with your human customer in an impactful way. We hear time and again that the cat-only customer can tend to feel neglected by the industry, so we love to leverage design to make cat parents feel seen, heard and taken care of. Plus, who doesn’t love buying something beautiful and colorful? Just makes the experience that much more sticky.
Great American Pet: (John Bosserman) It’s important that packaging makes truthful claims about the contents. Many popular claims being made on pet treat packaging have no legal or industry definition and can sometimes be used to create an impression with the consumer that is not matched by the product it contains.
Champion Petfoods: (Ernie Ambrose) Packaging plays a vital role in the success of pet food and treats. Not only are prospective consumers attracted to visually appealing packages, many consider environmental impact, convenience and durability when making purchasing decisions. Beyond visual aspects and usability, packaging also has to be strategic in how it relays information to the pet parent. Calling out specific and key differentiators like the quality, quantity and types of animal ingredients used in the product are important messages manufacturers should focus on.
Supreme Petfoods: (Claire Hamblion) The small pet fixture can be complex therefore it is important that packaging offers clarity. Clever brand blocking can provide a window into the fixture, helping shoppers to quickly identify the product they need. Calling out features and benefits is more important than ever to show that the brand delivers on the customer’s specific requirements. We also believe that it is important to communicate that for herbivores, their nutritional requirements are met by feeding kibble, hay, leafy green vegetables and clean drinking water.
Jones Natural Chews: (Laura Jones) Packaging is a first impression, so you want it to stand out and make a lasting impression. It isn’t enough to just be eye-catching, you do want to make sure that packaging doesn’t hinder the use of the product, but rather makes it easier to reward or feed a pet. Practicality is an important aspect, especially in packaged treats that are opened again and again.
K9 Granola Factory: (Amy Wineka) Oftentimes, the packaging is the first connection buyers will have with a product, making it critical to the success of the item/brand. Clean, attractive designs will catch the buyer’s attention and draw them to the information on the packaging. As the one responsible for the consumer of the product, the buyer wants to know if this item meets their pet’s nutritional needs, if it is safe, and what makes it unique. The content displayed on the packaging needs to be clear, concise and convincing. Lastly, buyers want to see packaging that protects the composition of the product and maintains its freshness.
Fromm Family Foods: (Bryan Nieman) Packaging can be critical in capturing the interest of pet parents. Both food and treats leave room for excellent design and art aesthetic. For example, Fromm Crunchy Os has a package design inspired by the irreverent and zany cartoons from the golden age of animation and allows us to be wildly creative when it comes to packaging and naming conventions as seen in our best-selling Smokin’ CheesePlosions or Blueberry Blasts treats.
Frankly Pet: (Alan Snyder) Packaging can play a significant role in the success of a product. It essentially provides potential customers with the first impression of your brand. A standout package should feature a bold logo and engaging colors that allow it to pop on shelves and catch the eyes of shoppers. Today’s pet parents are also more inclined to read a product’s label before making a purchase, which is why messaging is important. Packages should convey key product highlights to inform potential customers of its benefits.
Phelps Pet Products: (Rick Ruffolo) Packaging plays a critical role in catching the attention of shoppers, communicating the product type (is it a jerky treat, a biscuit or a long-lasting chew) and highlighting the key product benefits (is it organic, where is it made, does it include upcycled materials, what are the main ingredients). The brand personality and image also can come to life through great package design. And, of course, packaging also plays a functional role in store and in the home by protecting the product quality and freshness. Shoppers expect resealable packages because they know the importance of keeping treats/food fresh between uses.
Natural Cravings: (Lucy Caprez) Packaging is just as important as the product inside. I have seen many quality products that merit a purchase but instead, they sit on the shelves collecting dust. Packaging should be designed in a way to create an attraction to first, touch the product. Once there is a point of physical contact, the changes of purchase go up significantly. The second part will depend on the packaging being able to answer the questions of if the product is palatable (does the product look enticing in the box or bag) and does it offer any benefits (information printed clearly on the box or bag). At this point the right price point will likely close the deal. If the product lives up the expectations created, you will likely have repeat business.
Barkworthies: (Kat Smith) Having bold color packaging and messaging that stands out from others in the category is crucial to the success of the product. Simple, benefit call-outs on the front of the bag with a large window is key for helping consumers easily make choices that are specific to their dog’s needs, from age, size, protein type, benefits and more is key.
Kennelmaster Foods: (Vicki Wagner) A crucial element to driving our growth is how our products are presented. First impressions are everything. Based on that premise, it has been our mission to create packaging design that is bright, colorful, highly visible while complimenting each product throughout the line. Our retailers benefit greatly by our brightly colored, cohesive packaging as it is instantly recognizable. Chip’s Naturals has strong brand loyalty and our unique and vibrant packaging plays directly into our retailers’ hands, as the consumer can instantly spot and choose our treats.
Sabrini’s Royal Treats: (Susan Traub) Great packaging normally catches the consumers eye even when the product is unknown. Once the product is picked up, a clear listing of ingredients and calories will be a deciding factor if that bag is brought to the cash register. If the end user likes it as much as the buyer, it becomes a perfect fit and a success for all.
Over the next few years, do you see the plant-based food/treat category growing, and what other trends will make an impact?
Annamaet Petfoods: (Robert Downey) Certainly plant based foods are on the rise but high costs will be a limiting factor until new technologies are developed to moderate price. Novel protein sources are continuously being developed and introduced.
SFBB: (Jason Oneppo) It can help support organizations that benefit pets, whether in helping animal shelters, disaster relief for misplaced pets, or organizations that help the pet industry, such as those dealing with legislative issues that could lead to company closures, resulting in job loss. Even simple gestures, such as sponsoring events or portions of events, for example, sponsoring speakers to help get them to events where they educate the attendees/hobbyists.
NPIC: (Sam Chen) I think the pet industry tends to follow the trends that take place in the human food/snack category. And the plant-based food/treat category will be growing because, at the end of the day, humans are making the purchase decision. That said, we, as a supplier, will still need to develop viable, plant-based alternative to replace the nutrition and flavors from meat-based formulas because some animals are carnivores and some animals, while omnivorous, tend to prefer to the taste and flavor of meat.
Open Farm: (Mark Sapir) A plant-based shift has begun. Early adopters have ignited this category, but as more and more consumers become more thoughtful and deliberate about helping the planet, this shift will accelerate, we see more pet parents feel confident in plant-based nutrition, have a sense that dogs are omnivores and can thrive on well formulated plant-based diets and treats.
Wild Earth: (Ryan Bethencourt) Since Wild Earth introduced the concept of plant-based food and treats for dogs on “Shark Tank” in 2019, there has been an explosion in the “alternative protein” category for pets — and we’re just getting started. As more consumers learn about the benefits associated with plant-based foods — both environmental and health-related — we anticipate more pet parents will reach for plant-based nutritionally complete dog food and treats like Wild Earth. In fact, thousands of Wild Earth pet parents have reported many health benefits after switching such as allergy and digestion relief.
Shameless Pets: (Allison Sparks) We expect to see human food trends continue to impact the pet food market. This includes eating more sustainably, eating for health including seeking out specific superfoods and trying alternative proteins. Shameless Pets offers a unique blend of proteins and superfoods in every treat, while including upcycled surplus or misfit ingredients to reduce global food waste.
Earth Animal: (Susan Goldstein) Plant based growth in our industry must follow what has happened for humans in order for the planet to heal and survive. The contributing factors to global warming, caused by animal agriculture and factory farming of animals raised for pet food is appalling. Our carbon pawprint is greater than all of the combined global transportation. Over the next five years, Earth Animal plans to be less dependent on meat and a leader in plant-based products, benefiting the health of dogs and cats, the welfare of farm animals and the planet. We believe that there are others of like mind who will join us.
Great American Pet: (John Bosserman) The pendulum seems to swing based on human food trends and fads. Common sense would indicate that dogs are basically omnivores and our experience in blending vegetables and fruit into our collagen chews bears that out. They love the animal-based collagen. And they love their cranberries and sweet potatoes.
Supreme Petfoods: (Claire Hamblion) In the small pet sector, owners continue to be interested in the nutritional requirements of their pet and often have very specific criteria they expect a brand to fulfill. High fiber, no added sugar recipes are now better understood. We’ve also found our kibble diets for herbivores have been well received, being able to encourage active chewing due to their high fiber matrix and the crunchy texture is also very attractive. The use of natural ingredients, sourced in a sustainable way continues to be a strong driver in the market and we believe the need for transparency in this area will increase.
Jones Natural Chews: (Laura Jones) Sustainable and plant-based options will continue to grow as a category. Farmers are constantly innovating and that can really drive what is available to manufacturers. Tech advancements will continue and that can really drive trends. I believe that as we continue to learn more about the nutritional needs of dogs rotational feeding will grow as a trend.
K9 Granola Factory: (Amy Wineka) We are seeing a huge demand for plant-based foods in the pet market. And because of this demand, we are currently working to expand our line of K9 Granola Factory Chips to include both a beet chip and a carrot chip. In addition, we are aiming to launch a light and flavorful pumpkin puff that will provide pups with a low-calorie treat that also boasts the nutritional benefits of pumpkin. I think the push for more plant-based products will continue to grow as parents realize the benefits of providing their pets with a holistic diet that includes a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables.
Frankly Pet: (Alan Snyder) Plant-based food and treats will certainly continue to make an impact, especially among pets who have allergies or aversions to specific proteins. For that reason, we can expect to see more single ingredient treats available on the market as well.
Phelps Pet Products: (Rick Ruffolo) Hands down – 100 percent plant-based (meatless) jerky is the No. 1 hottest trend in dog treats. As you know, Phelps Pet Products was the first to bring this innovation to market in February 2020, and it has been embraced by shoppers across every channel of distribution. It doesn’t have to replace all meat choices, but the vast majority of consumers now consider themselves “flexitarians” whereby they are integrating more plant-based choices in their diets. They are starting to make this same shift with their dogs as the products taste great, have high protein content, and are good for the earth.
Natural Cravings: (Lucy Caprez) I do see this category growing over the next couple of years. As the U.S. consumer becomes more vegetable centric, so will their dogs. Ultimately the success of plant-based products will be because they figured out how to provide protein rich food and treats that have the flavors that will drive a dog to eat it with gusto. If the pet owner doesn’t see their dog loving what they eat, there will likely not be a repeat purchase. Plant-base has a lot of potential — if they can get that same canine instinct to eat meat, to switch without a blink.
Barkworthies: (Traci Mierzwa) As pet parents become more and more educated and want their four-legged family members to stay healthy and live longer, they will look for more ways to feed their pets, much the same way humans are learning about plant-based diet benefits. I believe we will see food and treat manufactures innovating plant-based products into their brand mix as an alternative option in the years to come. Other trends that have already started to make an impact are collagen based products. The benefits of Collagen in every dog’s diet are critical to them staying happy, healthy, and living longer.
Kennelmaster Foods: (Vicki Wagner) At Kennelmaster Foods we keep our focus on mainly meat-based treats with the exception of our single ingredient Sweet Taters. This brand model has served us well and we have no plans of branching out into the plant-based category in the near future.
Sabrini’s Royal Treats: (Susan Traub) This is a complicated issue. Pets can eat some, but not all fruits and vegetables. As long as the manufacturer uses safe fruits and vegetables for pets I believe it will become a growing trend.
Why should philanthropy be a part of a company’s mission?
Annamaet Petfoods: (Robert Downey) Certainly, philanthropy should be a part of a company’s fabric. As a company grows it is your social responsibility to give back. Corporate philanthropy is simply good business and works for the long term benefit of the society that helped you grow.
Precious Cat: (Gina Zaro) Dr. Elsey’s goal is to help keep cats in their homes by promoting litter box usage and a healthy diet. We also provide shelter kits and thousands of pallets of free litter to shelters and rescue groups across the country free of charge. It’s important for companies to have philanthropic goals, and help promote causes that go beyond the shelf.
NPIC: (Sam Chen) I think many in the industry are in the business, like NPIC, because of the love and passion for the animals. While we focus on higher revenue, efficiency, bottom line growth – all the business metrics in our daily endeavor, we should not forget that we do what we do to care for the animals, and there are more ways to achieve this goal than just selling. For example, NPIC partners with local shelters and donate treats and monetary resources to support their operations because the health and wellbeing of pets are at the center of what we do.
Open Farm: (Mark Sapir) All companies have their own approach and mission and purpose. Our job is not to judge others, but to focus on what we think is right for our team, our business and our customers. We are 100 percent focused on great nutrition, but also believe we have a responsibility to protect the planet. Consumers are looking for brands that are mission driven, it is not enough to produce a quality product, brands also need to have a heart and soul and be focused beyond just delivering a product in a bag. Leaning into doing better and supporting causes is not only the right thing to do, but also will be rewarded by consumers.
Shameless Pets: (Allison Sparks) Shameless Pets mission is to prevent or reduce food waste by upcycling misfit or surplus ingredients into high quality treats pets will love. We also donate treats to a variety of rescue organizations and animal centered nonprofit organizations. When philanthropy is an authentic part of a company’s mission, consumers connect more strongly and become more brand loyal as a brand aligns with their personal values.
SquarePet: (Tyler Atkins) Giving back to the community is important to us because we want to support local businesses and organizations and also help pet parents provide the best possible nutrition for their pets. Throughout our infancy we have partnered with organizations, like Emancipet in our local area, facilitating significant pet food donations to help pet parents in need. As SquarePet continues to grow our goal is to continue to expand our reach and add more philanthropic endeavors to our offerings in the future.
Earth Animal: (Susan Goldstein) It just feels good to do good and in our experience pet parents connect with companies who have a greater purpose other than financial. Also, charitable effort is appealing to certain individuals seeking employment. Sustainability is a real draw attracting the kind of folks you want to hire and work alongside of. Since 1979, Earth Animal has always made it a practice to tithe in areas of mission, and Earth Animal currently donates 1 percent of its annual sales.
Made by Nacho: (Julie Nelson) At Made by Nacho, we like to say we take care of our own. We don’t just want to make incredible food, we want to use our platform to take care of cats everywhere. Philanthropy isn’t only important to us — we know it’s top of mind for our community. Our give back efforts are some of our most engaged with moments as a brand. We find every opportunity we can to invite our community to the table, match their donations, and give back to their favorite shelters, nonprofits and research organizations.
Supreme Petfoods: (Claire Hamblion) It’s increasingly important that brands are integrated into pet owner communities. By sharing their concerns and identifying needs, we can create better products that are always in demand. Once your brand is part of a community you have an element of responsibility to support the causes your audience believes in, and we think morally this is the right thing to do. At Supreme, ‘care’ extends to all we do – from the long-standing relationships we have with farmers, to the support we provide retailers who stock our brands and the donations we make to charities. Our ethical stance has always been important and a key factor in building our positive reputation over the years.
Jones Natural Chews: (Laura Jones) Taking care of the community around you is just the right thing to do. Consumers demand it, but helping others when you can is rewarding in numerous other ways as well. We have all received help from someone along the way, so paying that forward is just a part of being a member of a functioning society.
K9 Granola Factory: (Amy Wineka) The satisfaction of owning and running a business should come full circle by giving back to your community. Philanthropy adds a real, human element to the business. When a company makes “paying it forward” part of their mission, they are showing their customers that they are about more than just sales. At K9 Granola Factory, we do not focus solely on one cause, but instead, we support a variety of local organizations including area SPCAs and pet rescues. And as a family-owned business, we give back to a diverse selection of non-profits that are near and dear to our hearts.
Fromm Family Foods: (Bryan Nieman) The decision to give back through donations or philanthropic relationships is something each company has to determine on its own. At Fromm, we’ve found it incredibly rewarding to give back and have aligned ourselves with amazing organizations that do a lot in the non-profit space. One of our most impactful partnerships is with Southeastern Guide Dogs, a non-profit that trains and places service dogs with individuals with vision impairment or veterans suffering from PTSD and other combat-related trauma at no charge to the recipient. We’re proud to feed their full program and help put some good out into the world for a very deserving cause. In addition to our support of Southeastern Guide Dogs we provide food and funding for a variety of non-profits both in our home state of Wisconsin as well as across North America.
Frankly Pet: (Alan Snyder) Consumers are drawn to brands whose mission aligns with their very own, whether it’s a brand that donates a portion of their proceeds or one that’s conscientious about the environment. Frankly Pet was created as America’s alternative to traditional rawhide. We believe in providing the highest quality products that are made in the U.S.A. with full traceability. We also strive to be eco-friendly and have made it a priority to employ sustainable practices throughout our operation to help protect the planet. We believe our mission has allowed us to establish trust and a deeper connection with our customers.
Phelps Pet Products: (Rick Ruffolo) Philanthropy is a deeply personal decision by brands and retailers. It cannot be “required.” It has to be “felt” to be authentic. Some brands have a strong externally-focused mission-based culture that is synonymous with their brand equity. While others are more private and deliberate about how they support specific causes – including simply valuing their employees and local communities. One is not necessarily better than the other, and I definitely am not in the business of judging others. Any effort to give back and share your good fortune with others should be celebrated.
Natural Cravings: (Lucy Caprez) Giving back gives your company purpose and a great mission for greatness. Paying it forward and giving back have been part of our company mission from the beginning and as the years go by, we find new ways to help our community and employees. The byproduct of that is company loyalty and not to discount the true “feel good” that comes from helping others. At the end of the day whether we are giving back locally to our neighborhoods or paying it forward by offering extra benefits to our employees, we are all taking part in bettering our community. If our community does well, ultimately so will our business. What we have tried to do at Natural Cravings is to create a scholarship program for our employees so they can have the opportunity to go to college and, by doing this, the circle of poverty closes, and new opportunities are given to those who take this program. It doesn’t matter what they want to study, it matters that they take the opportunity to go to college. Both Patrick and I have been given great opportunities in life and we feel it is best to pay it forward by giving back to those who help us every day, our employees. We encourage anyone considering giving back in any way to consider the rescues that operate in their community or homeless shelters that accept pets. We all can make a difference in someone’s life with a small contribution, be it time, money or other.
Barkworthies: (Tom Goundry) Philanthropy makes sense. We feel passionately about it. From the business perspective, reaching new pet parent adopters, shelters and rescues helps build brand affinity and loyalty from day one. These are also a highly engaged audience that often participates in feedback to help you further develop your products and helps in developing content, etc. This rings with authenticity with customers and consumers and study after study shows consumers showing preference to brands associated with cause. Secondly, it feels good to do good and from lifting morale to making every participant in your brand, from customers to partners and vendors, feel good cause as part of your brand gives people that intangible yet highly desirable.
Kennelmaster Foods: (Vicki Wagner) As one of the original co-founders of Sophie’s Circle, a pet food bank and animal rescue, we donate because they are near and dear to me not because it is expected or required. I think every company should determine for themselves how they want to handle charitable donations. Giving to charity can be a double edge sword as companies, at times, will feel overwhelmed by the requests and oftentimes giving more still doesn’t satisfy the masses.
Stella & Chewy’s: (Gina Nicklas) Pet parents want to purchase from brands with values align closely to their own. For Stella & Chewy’s, philanthropy has always been a priority. Both Stella & Chewy, the inspirations for our brand, were adopted as adult dogs. This then brought on our passion for adult and senior pet adoption. We are committed to helping adult and senior pets find their forever homes through our Journey Home Fund. To date, we have donated over 6,500,000 meals to shelter pets, helped over 1,000 adult and senior pets find their forever homes, and have covered over $270,000 in adoption fees to help families adopt pets in need.
Sabrini’s Royal Treats: (Susan Traub) At Sabrini’s Royal Treats we give back to canine cancer research. We feel giving back to research is the only way we can try to find ways to extend our pets’ lives. A lot of money goes toward human diseases, and we believe not enough goes toward animals. There are many pet organizations that need financial help. Whatever you choose, a non-kill shelter funding health care, supporting animal rights all can be aided through philanthropy.