By Eric Stenson
It’s easy to imagine cats taking to fish—after all, how many cartoons have featured mischievous cats trying to get into the goldfish bowl? However, all-natural sea-based food, treats and supplements are becoming increasingly common for dogs as well.
In fact, PetMD.com says that dogs greatly benefit from having their diets supplemented with fish, getting many of the same advantages of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and protein that humans enjoy. Fish oil acts as an anti-inflammatory for pets, eases inflammation due to allergies, reduces itchiness and dandruff, promotes a shiny, healthy coat, reduces shedding, aids in brain and eye development in kittens and puppies and may slow the growth of cancer, according to PetcareRx.com.
An Ocean of Products
And there is now a growing number of companies providing these types of products, competing for space at the warehouses of distributors and on the shelves of retailers.
Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, California, got started 10 years ago when its CEO, Aaron Merrell, got an English bulldog puppy. He took a DIY approach when he was dissatisfied with what he saw on the market regarding dog treats and started creating his own formulations in his mother’s kitchen, according to Marketing Director Nichole Nonini.
“He knew he wanted a highly palatable and safe treat,” she said. “We have been going since with the same process and same careful choosing of our ingredients so our customers always feel safe when they want to treat their dog out of an act of love.”
Plato makes a variety of treats made with salmon and Icelandic fish, as well as a wild Alaskan salmon oil liquid supplement. Nonini says her company has a great relationship with vendors, which it maintains by providing consistent support and resources and listening closely to feedback. She indicated that retailers looking to increase their presence in this market should keep it simple and look toward manufacturers who feel the same way.
“Limited ingredients—the nutritional value of the salmon protein alone is very good and we prefer to keep it as that: simple with no additives,” she said. “We also know where our salmon is coming from, and that’s important. Where we source our ingredients from is the key component to a high-quality treat.”
Barkworthies in Richmond, Virginia, makes a wide variety of chews, treats and bones, including treats made from cod skin, salmon or sardines, and salmon twists. The company keeps its fish products to one ingredient—for example, salmon skin in the salmon skin roll-ups—and all items are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. There are no chemicals, preservatives or additives used, and the emphasis is always on making treats that are safe, healthy and tasty.
Bill Chillian, Barkworthies’ marketing vice president, says that the natural pet food category is growing at a rapid pace, and customers are always looking for new ways to keep pets happy, healthy and occupied. According to Chillian, proper display and spotlighting is key to grabbing consumers’ attention.
“It would be beneficial to establish a ‘food from the sea’ section within the all-natural aisle so that it stands out to busy shoppers,” Chillian suggested.
Grizzly Pet Products in Woodinville, Washington, which is located outside of Seattle, got started in 2002 when it partnered with salmon fisheries in Alaska that were discarding a goodly amount of fish after processing filets for human consumption. Grizzly makes salmon-based food and supplements for dogs and cats and krill oil for dogs.
“Wild salmon is the backbone for almost all of our products,” said Harald Fisker, Grizzly’s owner and president.
According to Fisker, retailers who think sea products could make a bigger impact in their inventories might want to look into his company’s joint products. The Glucosamine and Chondroitin formulas come in liquid and pellet forms. The Chondroitin pellets are more than 50 percent salmon meal, making them much more palatable, Fisker explained.
Pet Kelp/The Missing Link, now owned by W.F. Young Inc. of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, produces chewy treats, jerky and supplements, which are all organic and based on kelp, according to Ken Wilks, director of sales and marketing.
“It is the most powerful super food on the planet,” Wilkes said of kelp. “More than 70 vitamins and minerals in it.”
To Wilks, the beauty of his company’s products is in their basic formulation.
“Very simple ingredient panel setup,” he noted. “Low allergy potential.”
About 80 to 90 percent of Pet Kelp’s business comes from the powdered supplements, Wilks said. There is a Wellness formula, a Joint & Bone formula, a Probiotic formula, a Skin & Coat formula and a Digestive formula. He suggests the supplements as a good entry point for retailers looking to expand their presence in the natural, sea-based market.
“Kelp products are becoming very big on the human side; for pets, it fills gaps—helps supplement nutrients in pet foods,” he said. “Pet foods are processed and cooked at 400 degrees. If you were a person and that was all you ever ate, imagine seeing a salad bar. That’s what the kelp supplements are like for pets. They’re natural, much less processed.”