As pet o wners seek out more healthful and natu- ral diets for their dogs and
cats, there has been growing interest in raw frozen and freeze-dried foods as well as dehydrated options.
While raw diets hold only a
small percentage of the overall
pet food category, that percentage is continuously growing,
said Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice
president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland,
Ore. The focus largely has been
on freeze-dried and dehydrated
foods, but Hatch-Rizzi said more
stores are looking to add freezers
or expand their freezer section.
Brook Bickford, owner of
Gone to the Dogs Boutique in St.
Pete Beach, Fla., is among those
retailers who are considering
adding a freezer. He has been
selling freeze-dried foods, and
though he admitted it’s a small
market, he said it’s a steady one.
The biggest pushback has been
the price. Bickford said he has
had to educate customers on the
benefits that make these foods
worth the extra cost.
“There is some sticker shock
from the customers who have
never purchased freeze-dried
foods before, and that remains
my biggest hurdle,” Bickford
said. “But the clients that buy
it do so on a recurring basis.
For that reason, I have been
deciding if there is also
enough of a market to
justify a freezer.”
Dan Owens, co-owner of
Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Char-
lotte, N.C., said the benefits of a
raw diet that customers seem to
like are the high absorbency rate
and the production of less waste.
Cats and dogs with allergies and
sensitivities also seem to do well
on raw diets, Owens said.
“Once customers see the ben-
efits for themselves, they tend
to be hooked,” Owens said.
“It’s particularly popular in ur-
ban markets, where having less
waste makes the pet a lot more
As pets become more a part
of the family, the market will
continue to grow, said Doug
Jones, director of social media
for OC Raw Dog in Rancho Santa
“Dogs are part of the family,
and pet parents look at them like
their children,” Jones said. “
Because of that, they’re doing more
research on healthful diets and,
ultimately, turning to raw.”
As more pet owners express interest in a raw
diet, the need for education is expanding.
DISPLAYED TO SELL
Like anything else, the key to selling more raw frozen, raw
freeze-dried and dehydrated foods is visibility, said Dan
Owens, co-owner of Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Charlotte,
N.C. However, visibility is admittedly a challenge when raw
foods might be hidden away in a freezer. Owens said he
makes a point to generate conversation about raw diets so
that customers are encouraged to check them out.
Jeana Evans, manager of Pet Barn in Fulton, Md., said
that her store’s seven glass-door walk-in freezers allow her
to display each line of food very well.
Of course, it’s helpful to have the freezer section
positioned in high-traffic areas, said Tracey Hatch-Rizzi,
vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food
Inc. in Portland, Ore.—particularly when retailers have
“Colorful signage letting customers know ‘there’s some-
thing good inside’ is also helpful,” Hatch-Rizzi said. “There
are also a growing number of retailers who are opting for
glass-front freezers, which merchandise very well and give
the customer the opportunity to explore the freezer section
fully—without ever having to open a door.”
Retailers should put some thought into the overall
appearance of their freezer, manufacturers reported. If
there is food that has been in there a long time and past
the expiration date, it’s going to be an automatic turn-off to
customers, said Doug Jones, director of social media for OC
Raw Dog in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
“What consumers love about raw is that it’s fresh and
healthful, but having old food in your freezer is going to
immediately give a bad impression,” Jones said. “Make
sure you are continually checking food and keeping it
Caroline Gunther, owner of Wag! A Unique Pet Boutique
in Hendersonville, N.C., said that very few of her customers
happen across raw and become interested. Most already
have heard about it somewhere and have done a little
research. Still, for customers who are brand new to the
category, Gunther starts a dialogue.
“For me, selling more raw food always starts with a
conversation,” Gunther said. “It’s not the type of food that
consumers are going to discover and understand on their
own unless they’ve already done their research, so I make a
point to talk to my customers about it.”
EDUCATING CUSTOMERS ON RAW
Dan Owens, co-owner of Four Dogs Pet Supplies in Charlotte, N.C., said it’s not
uncommon for customers to have a lot of questions if they’re considering a new
diet and that customers want to understand the defrosting portions as well as
how to keep the food frozen. Customers who are new to raw diets will turn to
the retailer for support, and that’s what is beneficial about being an independent
retailer, he said.
“We really have the time and the desire to discuss this kind of information
with the client—and to be there to support them through a change,” Owens
said. “Even though more people are learning about raw diets, you’d be surprised
how often the first time they’ve heard anything about it is from you. If a custom-
er asks a question about their pet’s diet, that’s the perfect opportunity to bring
up the benefits of raw.”
As more pet owners become interested in switching diets, the opportunities
for retailers will grow. Jeana Evans, manager of Pet Barn in Fulton, Md., said that as
interest grows, retailers need to take responsibility to get the facts straight.
“At the very least, consumers are looking for information, and they’re going
to turn to retailers for the answers,” Evans said. “Have a good knowledge of your
products and make sure your employees do, too.”
Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis, said retailers also have
the opportunity to make the transition easier on consumers.
“Every day, more and more concerned pet parents are discovering the
amazing difference a raw diet can make,” Johnson said. “Even so, the leap
from kibble to canned can be intimidating. It’s important for pet specialty
retailers to be ready to introduce pet parents to freeze-dried alternatives, like
Sojos, that combine the affordability and shelf-stable convenience of kibble
with the superior nutrition of raw.”
Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro,
N.C., said that hosting seminars in which the public is invited to come out
and learn about a raw diet, as well as ask questions, is helpful in educating
“There’s definitely a lot more interest in raw—but there are also a lot of questions,” Schwartz said. “Most customers want to know how to introduce it as well
as how to feed it. ‘Do I have to cook it?’ is a very common question we get.”
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WHAT WILL HELP SELL MORE
RAW AND DEHyDRATED FOODS?
“So often my raw food sales are
born out of a customer’s curiosity
of what they can do to help their
dog or cat with an ongoing issue.
They may have tried many different
foods and been unable to find the
right remedy. I have heard a lot of
success stories from customers
who switched to a raw diet and
finally found a solution that works
for them.”—CAROLINE GUNTHER,
owner of Wag! A Unique Pet Boutique in Hendersonville, N.C.
“It would be incredibly helpful if we
could get more vets on board. It’s
a shame when people are deterred
from trying a raw diet because their
vet expressed concerns. Oftentimes,
the vets just aren’t as familiar with
it.”—ALISON SCHWARTZ, general
manager of All Pets Considered in