EDUCATION IS A
Retailers and manufacturers agree that knowledge is
the cornerstone of natural dog food promotion.
“Natural” is just the first of many features
consumers are seeking when they decide to try a
different superpremium brand, said Adrian Pettyan,
CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero
“In today’s world, most of us don’t know how or
where our food is made, including the food we feed
our dogs,” said Isaac Langleben, co-founder of Open
Farm in Toronto.
While many consumers have done some initial
research about different brands online, they still
look to retail salespeople for recommendations and
pet-specific advice, he said.
“While comparing packages, they’re searching
for other clues, such as ‘made with human-grade
ingredients,’ or ‘prepared in small batches,’ ‘made in
the USA’ or ‘grain free,’ Pettyan noted.
Education enables consumers to make informed
decisions about what they feed their families, including their pets, Langleben added.
“Education is so integral to a pet’s health,” said
Bobby Wise, owner of George, which has locations in
California. “We want our customers to purchase the
appropriate product for their pet, so knowledge is a
Assisting the customer in developing their own
understanding of ingredient labels is an essential
factor in this support.
“‘Natural’ is a vague term,” said Sherry Redwine,
co-owner of Odyssey Pets in Dallas. “Ten years ago,
people thought the terms ‘organic’ and ‘natural’
were interchangeable. So we teach our customers
to look at the ingredient panel for things like byprod-
ucts, artificial colors, corn syrup, etc., and to avoid
Budget is a significant consideration at Pet
Things in Douglasville, Ga., said co-owner Terry
“Many customers come in asking for natural
food for their dogs; however, the price point may
be prohibitive,” he said. “All of the foods we carry
are quality, but once we understand the budget, we
start by sharing the foods that are a fit, and then we
can work our way up over time. We don’t upsell; it
is counterproductive, because that customer might
buy one bag and never return.”
Sharing samples, engaging in promotions and
emphasizing smaller, starter-sized boxes also are
of value when placing product in consumer hands,
introducing whole food diets and creating new, loyal
customers, said Lucy Postins, CEO and founder of
The Honest Kitchen in San Diego.
“An educational strategy we’ve found to be suc-
cessful is to initially suggest a health food diet, such
as The Honest Kitchen, as an add-in to what the
customer is already serving,” Postins said. “This way,
the consumer is trying out the product without com-
pletely changing up their current routine. We use the
analogy that it’s very similar to supplementing your
own diet with nutritious fruits and vegetables.”
When presented with the differentiators be-
tween natural versus conventional foods, consumers
with an understanding of the value of these foods
are eager to make the leap to a more premium,
sustainable food, Langleben said.
“At Open Farm, we bring a whole new angle to
the conversations with our focus on farm animal
welfare and sustainability,” he added. “We want
consumers to demand full transparency and premi-um-quality ingredients, especially when it comes to
meat sourcing, and we’ve found that extending that
compassion to farm animals just makes sense to
most pet owners.”
Behind most authentic natural brands, there is a great story, said
Isaac Langleben, co-founder of Open Farm in Toronto. Retailers
embracing innovative natural products can benefit from this
storytelling platform, and are able to launch new and interesting
conversations with their customers about the health of their pet
and various specialty food options, he added.
“Our strongest retailers are those who become experts in
nutrition and in the many great products they carry in their stores,”
Langleben said. “Drawing in new business through channels
including social media, in-store merchandising and engagement,
and community events are all effective ways to put that expertise
and innovation on display.”
Alternative foods, also known as health foods for pets, are best
merchandised together in a dedicated shelf set to create a category
focus and “destination” within the store, said Lucy Postins, CEO
and founder of The Honest Kitchen in San Diego. Further, many
consumers are looking to move up from a highly processed kibble
to a less-processed alternative.
“We’ve seen huge success when The Honest Kitchen is sold as
an add-on item with a bag of kibble, promoting the message that
every bit of real, minimally processed whole food in a pet’s bowl can
make a difference to their total health,” Postins said.
When it comes to the growing demand for freeze-dried foods, it
is important for pet specialty retailers to dedicate ample, high-traffic store space to the category, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of
Sojos in Minneapolis.
“It is also important that retail team members are well versed
and ready to successfully educate their consumers on the unique
ins and outs of freeze-dried foods,” Johnson said.
Almost 20 percent of surveyed owners occasionally give their dog
semimoist food or fresh/refrigerated food, according to the American
Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey.