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Toppers Enhance the Dog Food Experience

Maggie Marton//January 6, 2014//

Toppers Enhance the Dog Food Experience

Maggie Marton //January 6, 2014//

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When consumers are looking to increase the palatability of their dog’s food, or they’re seeking out healthy ways to enhance the nutrition of store-bought kibble, guide them toward dog food toppers.

In many cases, dog food toppers provide an excellent add-on with dog food sales, and are driven by two key consumer needs.

First, consumers seek out nutritious additives for commercially-prepared kibble. Those pet owners who want to supplement their dog’s kibble, look for toppers that add the nutrients that they think might be missing from their dog’s current food. This can include additional protein, probiotics and, more recently, superfoods.

The second type of consumer is looking for a simple flavor enhancer. Picky dogs grow bored of the same diet, so dog food toppers can be an affordable way for a pet owner to entice the dog to eat.

In addition, dogs who are eating a bland prescription diet, or who have a loss of appetite during a medical treatment like chemotherapy need to be enticed to eat. Dog food toppers can provide that incentive.

On the horizon, is also the rising trend of consumers wanting to be more involved in the making of their pet’s food. Toppers can provide an easy way for them to do that.

It’s something Lucy Postins, founder and CEO of The Honest Kitchen, has spotted among her customers.

“We’ve found that so many customers want the experience of making something ‘homemade’ for their beloved pets,” she said. “So offering products that can be mixed with a kibble is both fun for the owner and functional for the pet because they’re getting a palatable meal with whole food ingredients, a higher moisture content, which helps aid in digestion, and in the case of Pro Bloom, added probiotics and enzymes.”

Innovative products like Pro Bloom, a shelf-stable instant goat’s milk with digestive enzymes and probiotics that provides general immune support at the gut level, illustrates the direction of the market. Traditionally, the category consisted of canned food and niche flavor enhancers, but is expanding.

Growing Market

As Anthony Bennie, co-founder of Clear Conscience Pet pointed out, few customers serve their dogs a diet of only canned food. Rather, he said, they combine the canned food with a commercially-prepared kibble.

While canned foods still lead sales, the category is exploding with options.

“Currently, some of the different types of toppers in the market include gravy options, as well as toppers with unique textures and meats,” Chanda Leary-Coutu, communications manager forWellness, said. “Wellness 95% can recipes are made with 95 percent pure meat, and are a delicious complement to our dry kibble. The recipes can be added as a topper or mixed in with our Wellness dry food.”

According to Rebecca Tomala, a marketing representative for Spring Naturals, their canned stews provide flavor and nutrition enhancements.

“All of our stews are formulated to provide a nutritionally complete diet for your pet, but they can also be used as a topper over kibble for a special treat,” she said. “As consumers become more conscious as to what they are eating, they will continue to carry over this inclination over to what they are feeding their best friends. Pet industry trends will continue to support consumer’s desires for nutritious and delicious food, food enhancers and treats.”

Beyond the can, products like Clear Conscience Pet’s SuperGravy provide both enhancements, nutrition and palatability, that consumers look for in a topper.

“Our approach is different from other manufactures,” Bennie said. “We’re creating the gravy mix that doesn’t require the consumer to purchase water from us.”

Instead, the pet owner adds water, preferably warm water, to stir up the gravy, which is a concentrated mix of dry ingredients, including superfoods.

“We’re trying to encourage or foster hydration of the food, which makes it much more flavorable and at the same time enhances nutrition,” he said.

While not a primary driver yet, demand for superfoods is growing, as well as impacting the products that manufacturers are looking to develop.

Tomala believes this is due to the megatrend of people treating pets as family and, thus, wanting to feed their pets the same quality food that they eat.

“Superfoods have seen a drastic increase in popularity at our local health food stores, but also in our independent pet food stores,” she said. “Some pet food companies are embracing this demand and striving to include only include the healthiest, domestically-sourced ingredients in their line. The Spring Naturals line contains superfood ingredients like quinoa, blueberries, cranberries and carrots to offer a fresh approach to pet nutrition.”

Sales success in dog food toppers is driven by placement.

This category does not have a high level of consumer awareness, so Bennie recommends endcaps near dry dog food displays.

According to Postins, “Our products are usually merchandised as part of a distinct ‘alternative’ or ‘homemade’ category, a grouping of next-generation products, which focus on whole food, and minimally-processed ingredients.”

She finds this technique to be effective.

“When stores merchandise similar products in a unified display like this, it has a tremendous impact on sales,” Postins said. “We have also had great success with stores creating displays … and then using signage to educate the consumer on the benefits.”