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The Taste Test: These Factors Drive Consumer Demand for Pet Food, Treats

Glenn Polyn//September 1, 2023//

The Taste Test: These Factors Drive Consumer Demand for Pet Food, Treats

Glenn Polyn //September 1, 2023//

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Transparency, sustainability and premiumization are shaping the pet industry. The humanization trend also continues to move into the pet industry, primarily fueling the demand for natural, high-quality products that put a pet’s health first. In the food and treat sectors, 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, but they’re also demanding transparency from the brand on how the product is made and what comprises the ingredient list.

Today’s leading food and treat manufacturers are responding by delivering products that provide more than the standard dietary nutrients that dogs and cats require. Rather, the food and snacks include ingredients that help pets with cognitive function, mobility and other life-improving aspects.

Farmina Pet Foods, a leading Italian family-owned manufacturer of ultra-premium pet food, recently unveil its latest breakthrough with N&D White and N&D Brown, which are scientifically crafted with an exclusive Color Protection Formula that maintains a soft and shiny coat, while minimizing the risk of staining or discoloration.

Understanding that a soft and lustrous coat is an indication of a healthy dog, Farmina has developed N&D White and N&D Brown, specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of dogs with different coat colors and textures. N&D White is the brand’s cutting-edge product line designed to reduce the risk of staining on white coats. The recipes include single animal proteins of high biological value, along with limited levels of phenylalanine and tyrosine. Additionally, Farmina has carefully balanced the copper content and incorporated Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to a healthier and more vibrant coat. N&D White is the perfect choice for such white breeds as West Highland/white terriers, Maltese, Pomeranians, poodles, bull terriers and small, white-coated dogs.

Meanwhile, N&D Brown is scientifically formulated to minimize the risk of fading on dark coats. This line features high biological value proteins, elevated levels of phenylalanine and tyrosine, and an adequate copper content to support pigment maintenance. Omega-3 fatty acids also have been included to enhance a dog’s overall health and vitality. N&D Brown is ideal for brown breeds that include chihuahuas, schnauzers, French bulldogs, pinschers, poodles and small dogs with brown fur.

“Our innovative N&D White and N&D Brown products reflect our commitment to providing tailored nutrition solutions that cater to the unique needs of pets,” said Loris Rinaldi, CEO at Farmina Pet Foods of the new recipes. “A healthy coat is synonymous with a healthy pet. Our R&D veterinary team has developed our Color Protection Formulas that ensure pets receive the necessary nutrients to maintain a soft, shiny and healthy coat.”

Known for its ultra-premium, freeze-dried raw foods and treats, Vital Essentials is part of Carnivore Meat Company, which recently broke ground on its 235,000-square-foot global headquarters and manufacturing facility in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The state-of the-art plant will be the largest of its kind in North America, housing 36 proprietary, custom-built, next-generation freeze dryers. The manufacturing facility will be anchored by a pet-friendly innovation center dedicated to the development of new products that support the holistic wellness of pets and the business of the company’s business partners.

“As experts and veterans of the meat industry, the purposeful and intentional emphasis on maintaining meat quality is an integral part of our culture and ingrained in all that we do,” noted Lanny Viegut, CEO of Carnival Meat Company. “From supplier selection… to warehousing and transportation… to our pristine manufacturing facilities, we are ‘all in’ in maintaining the quality of meat, poultry and fish products. Why go through this effort? We aim to safeguard the natural nutrient profile, color, flavor and aroma. This is the pathway we have chosen, to responsibly deliver what many believe to be the pinnacle of excellence in the industry.”

According to Vital Essentials, today’s dog and cat understand that a high-quality, high-protein diet supports more energetic playtimes, healthier skin, shinier coats, stronger teeth and gut health. To deliver this diet, Vital Essential sources only whole animal “butcher cut protein” that is flash frozen at the peak of freshness and made into premium treats, toppers, meals and snacks.

The Raw Bar, which is a highly popular offering from the brand, is highlighted by freeze-dried snacks that include pig ears, bully sticks, duck heads, turkey necks and salmon sticks, thus allow pet parents a wide variety of options to treat their pets with healthy snacks while supporting oral health and clean teeth.

Innovation has been a driving force in dog food, and ZIWI has made an impact in this category thanks to its development of air-dried pet nutrition. The brand’s award-winning dog food recipes are handcrafted in small batches in its own New Zealand kitchens, using only high-quality ingredients. Each PeakPrey recipe is carefully crafted to match a dog’s biological needs from ethical and sustainable sourcing of meats from New Zealand.

Each ZIWI recipe includes industry leading and unmatched inclusions of 96 percent meat, organs, bones and seafood to reflect the whole-prey carnivore diet. They also feature up to a 40 percent superfood blend, which includes New Zealand green-lipped mussel that contains glucosamine and chondroitin for optimum joint mobility. The mussels also contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which promote healthy skin and coat. The recipes also include cold-washed green tripe to help support healthy digestion and increase palatability for even the pickiest eaters.

Last year, ZIWI opened a state-of-the-art kitchen in Napier, New Zealand, as part of the company’s plan for future expansion. In addition, with the manufacturing plant’s innovative technologies to streamline processes and improve sustainability, ZIWI is setting its future up for impactful product innovation with a minimal ecological footprint. This includes solar power, technology to clean the air from our dryers, the use of sustainable timber for a substantial portion of the wood paneling and furniture, as well as native plantings and water collection to promote the growth of the surrounding ecology.

Solid Gold, which is widely recognized as the first holistic pet food brand, launched Solid Gold nutrientboost in 2021, a premium line of recipes created specifically to improve gut health in cats and dogs, powered by a surprising source of nutrients: plasma. This innovative ingredient supports a pet’s immune health and supports nutrient absorption.

Plasma is naturally found in all meat, so dogs and cats have been consuming it for centuries. It is a natural, nutrient-rich liquid that actively support better nutrient absorption and offer a wealth of gut health benefits for both dogs and cats, including:

  • Nutrition: Each bite of these tasty formulas is packed with vital proteins full of minerals, antibodies and 18 amino acids.
  • Digestibility: proven to improve the digestibility of food in both dogs and cats, increasing their overall nutrient absorption and utilization
  • Immunity: packed full of minerals, amino acids, and antibodies which support the intestinal immune system against harmful bacteria while enhancing the body’s immune response to potential food-borne threats
  • Palatability: known to stimulate appetite and increase food consumption in both dogs and cats

Upon witnessing the benefits of the nutritionally boosted recipes, Solid Gold extended the line this year into its core kibble and wet diets. The premium dog food line is formulated with Solid Gold’s nutrientboost, a proprietary blend of superfoods, antioxidants and plasma, to support nutrient absorption, gut health and overall immunity.

“Solid Gold’s unique nutrientboost brings innovation to the pet category, focusing on the fact that pets tend to have unbalanced guts due to their diets. The proprietary nutrientboost blend has been shown to reduce stool output by about 9 percent [when compared to the same formula without nutrientboost]. Benefits like this are precisely what inspired us to develop the nutrientboost line, formulated as a separate kibble that is then added to our classic recipes,” said Leasa Moltke, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs of Solid Gold. “What sets the nutrientboost line apart from other pet products is the enriched formulation that harnesses the power of natural ingredients. Each product is carefully crafted to ensure the highest quality, with a focus on key nutrients and superfoods that provide dogs with an even greater level of nutrition.”

As with dog food, innovation has played a role in the advancement of the dog treat sector. NPIC, which was the Pet Age Brand of the Month for January 2022, has made it a priority to focus on the nutritional needs of dogs – from puppies to seniors – when it comes to its line of Get Naked treats and N-Bone dental chews.

Sam Chen, sales director at NPIC, takes pride in Get Naked being an award-winning pioneer that is a leader in the functional treats category. The brand has identified several key areas, such as joint, digestion and weight management, that are critical to dog wellness. The company owns its state-of-the-art, 160,000-square-foot facility, which is SQF Level 3 certified, which enables NPIC to launch such innovative products as the N-Bone Puppy Teething Ring.

“Innovation is the key to growth in almost every category,” Chen said in the January 2022 Brand of the Month profile. “And we at NPIC know it’s even more so in the pet treats category, based on many conversations we have had with our business partners. Our approach is three-fold: a focus on the customer needs, an understanding of the category dynamics, and the continuous improvement of our capabilities. We think of them together as a Venn diagram, and the intersection is where we want to dedicate our resources from every department so that we can quickly go from the concept phase to actual products on the shelves of our retailer partners.”

Get Naked formulas include antioxidant care, calming care, digestive care, fitness care, joint care, puppy care, senior care, and skin and coat care. Each option is formulated with wholesome ingredients and free from artificial preservatives or colors, grains and GMOs. They include ingredients that align with human food and wellness trends, contain higher nutritional values and improved palatability. Flavors of these treats include blueberry and chicken, maple and chicken, pineapple and chicken, pumpkin and chicken, salmon and chicken, apple and chicken, and coconut and chicken.

Natural chews remain popular with pet parents who look at them as a great bond-building opportunity. Animal body parts especially appeal to consumers who follow ancestral diet recommendations, according to Laura Jones, president of Jones Natural Chews.

“Dog chews are a great opportunity to supplement your dog’s diet, without having to trick them into swallowing a pill,” she explained. “Many natural chews offer great health benefits in addition to meeting a dog’s need to chew. That is just an inherent urge that dogs all experience, so dog parents really need to make sure their dogs have an appropriate outlet for their dog. Chewing is a soothing behavior, as it releases endorphins, so dogs are going to chew, and owners need options that won’t injure their dogs. Natural chews and body parts make for great additional proteins and good fats for a dog’s diet, which offer skin and coat benefits as well as improving muscle development. We offer several chews that also contain naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin, such as chicken feet and trachea, which are the backbones of all joint and mobility supplements. And, the gnawing action, inherent when a dog chews, promotes dental hygiene.”

For retailers who look to manufacturers for expert advice, some things stay the same, even in the constantly evolving pet industry. In the case of how retailers can maximize sales, the recommendations from pet brands in “Diving Into Food, Treats” from last year’s Food & Treat Guide still ring true.

“One of the common mistakes pet parents might make is just going with the big brands without much research,” noted Chen of NPIC. “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.”

Displaying pet food where consumers can easily see and reach it is important in encouraging sales,” explained Tyler Atkins of SquarePet. “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.”

“Place treats in secondary locations for impulse buys, such as near the register, utilizing display vehicles, when possible,” advised Diane Dale of Inaba. “For example, Inaba ships product in inner trays that can be used for display and has small footprint, free-standing displays that take minimal space. Also, put clip strips in food aisles and near popular shopped items like litter for high visibility of cat treats.”

“Impulse purchases, right at the counter, can be a great way to generate incremental spend,” explained Jones of Jones Natural Chews. “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.”

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