December 1, 2014

The problem that the pet industry faces is in defining what natural really means. To date, there are few organizations and no government agencies tasked with the responsibility of exercising control over the claim. The FDA has yet to define the claim, though they “do not object to it appearing on a label if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.” Rather, they rely on the industry to self-regulate.

“Natural is a general claim that implies that the product or packaging is made from or innate to the environment and that nothing artificial or synthetic has been added,” said Anthony Benny, founder/chief nutrition officer of Clear Conscience Pet, LLC. “The producer or manufacturer decides whether to use the claim and is not free from its own self-interest.”

“Defining all-natural is tough,” said Stephen Trachtenberg, owner of Chasing our Tails. “It’s a lot like trying to define holistic. We believe that all-natural products are derived from the earth in the purest form possible. Pre-processing and post-processing of plant or animal products further moves them away from all-natural. Organic attempts to define a true form of all-natural by removing GMO’s and chemical pesticides. Certified Made in USA used in conjunction with organic certifications, may be one of [the industry’s] best combined attempts at approaching a truly all-natural product.”

Defining the Term

Just as the word “natural” means different things to different consumers, manufacturers and retailers have varying definitions.

“A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources,” said Suzanne Madenis, marketing at Jones Natural Chews.

“We define all natural as, ‘as close to what nature created as possible, with all the nutrients and nothing artificial’,” said Kira Garrett, marketing and PR specialist at Sojos. “Our products are all from free-range, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat that’s carefully inspected then gently freeze-dried and packaged in our own facility.”

“At Caru Pet Products, we believe that natural is simply the starting point when it comes to selecting a superpremium pet food,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru. “Caru Natural Stews are now the only ready-to-eat recipes in the pet food industry that are made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients. We believe that this is a compelling claim to fame that sets our ‘more like homemade’ products apart from the rest.”

“Bravo’s extensive line of fresh-frozen and freeze dried raw foods and treats all start with wholesome meats and poultry,” said Bette Schubert, Bravo co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education. “They never contain grains, fillers, artificial preservatives or colorings. We only make single protein formulas so animals with health problems, especially allergies, have a safe source of nutrition.”

Relying on Consumer Education

Since the definition of natural varies, manufacturers rely on consumers and retailers to do their homework.
“We define natural as having no artificial additives, no GMOs and verified certification from suppliers,” said Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen Pet Food, one of the few companies that can claim their pet food is of “human grade” status. “We rely on consumers to educate themselves and be pet-food savvy and invest a lot in educating those consumers.”

“Pure Australian Tea Tree Oil contains over 113 components,” explains Kristen Dettbarn, marketing director for Kanberra Gel. “Only 15 of those components need to be included in order for an oil to be listed as tea tree oil. This is why it’s so important for consumers and retailers to understand the various certifications a brand has earned, and the source of that certification. All of our oils are authenticated by Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA). Such authentication is critical when dealing with natural products.”

“Using all-natural products provides peace of mind and better health while protecting pets, people and property from fleas, ticks and other insects,” said Stephanie Boone, CEO of Wondercide. “All Wondercide products are nontoxic and environmentally friendly. The main ingredient, our proprietary steam-distilled cedarwood oil, is scientifically combined with natural oils. This technology is highly effective at repelling and eliminating fleas, ticks and mosquitos (including their eggs and larvae).”

Packaging Matters

With a wealth of information available online, consumers seeking natural products are taking more time to perform due diligence. For this reason, pet care manufacturers who make this claim are taking steps to ensure their products remain transparent and substantiated.

Clear, easy-to-read packaging is one of the best ways to educate consumers and retailers.

“Our new CleanLabel initiative is based on short lists of pure, pronounceable and purposeful ingredients,” said Clear Conscience Pet founder Anthony Bennie. “This approach respects the intelligence of customers and makes it easier for retailers to talk about nutrition,” said Bennie.

“As pet parents increasingly search for ways to incorporate their own healthier lifestyles to pets, all-natural foods, supplements and treats have become a sought after segment of the store,” said David DeLorenzo, president of Fruitables. “Natural products may include fewer ingredients, or combinations of ingredients, that provide nutritional solutions to issues or pet parents’ concerns which may have a positive impact on the overall health of the pet.”

Utilizing Natural Across an Industry

While consumers are currently seeking out the terms natural and all-natural, there are predictions of this term imploding.

“The rapid expansion of pet food and treat products calling themselves ‘all-natural’ into grocery and mass market retail has caused the natural category to lose focus,” said Bennie. “When natural positioning is used virtually everywhere that pet products are sold, this dilutes the power of the message.”

“Define natural for your store and communicate that meaning to customers,” said Amy Shojai, author and spokesperson for Pet Healthy Stores. “Does natural mean no chemicals, or found only in nature, or organic ingredients or what? Are products designed to address the inherent biological/behavioral needs of the pets? There are many definitions and no legal term, so be clear what natural means in your store.”

It will ultimately be up to the pet industry to self-police until such time as the government defines these terms. This will rely primarily on educating consumers and retailers, and self-regulating terminology on packaging.

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