A DELICATE SUBJECT
Veterinarians throughout the country are having tough conversations with pet owners
as they address the health consequences of a dog carrying extra pounds, according to
company officials at Natural Balance Pet Foods in Burbank, Calif.
However, pet owners often turn to pet retailers for nutritional information and advice.
“The relationship between a retailer and their customer is a very important one,
especially within the pet specialty channel,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm
Family Foods in Mequon, Wis. “Consumers look to their retailer as an expert regarding
health and nutrition.”
Still, independent retailers walk a fine line when addressing a matter as sensitive as
“I would never go down the road of telling someone their dog is overweight,” said Sandy
Wingerd, sales associate for The Hitch N’ Post Feed and Tack in Tustin, Calif.
Instead, a customer at The Hitch N’ Post might be tactfully ushered to a selection of
recipes addressing specific issues, including weight loss.
“I’d point out the formulations created for sensitive tummies, skin issues and weight
loss,” Wingerd said.
Aquila Brown, owner of The Yuppy Puppy in Spokane, Wash., agreed that a diplomatic
approach is essential when guiding pet owners toward a weight-loss diet.
Brown added that when it comes to specialty diets, a pet owner might search for senior
food but not consider a weight-control recipe. The Yuppy Puppy’s well-trained groomers
assist in this regard, keeping an eye on the waistlines of their four-legged clients and
providing dietary recommendations if necessary.
“Customers don’t come in looking for weight-control food because nobody wants to
admit their kid is overweight,” she said. “It all comes back to having a relationship with the
client where you can approach them and tell them they need a weight-control food without
saying, ‘Dude, your dog is fat.’ My employees would never say that.”
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., concurred and said that
discretion is key.
“We absolutely will mention if a dog is overweight, but tactfully and gently,” she said.
However, this consideration is seasoned with some tough love.
“Humans use food to show love for their animals,” Grow said. “It often takes an
explanation that weight control will keep their animals with them longer and they’ll be
When a dietary change is called for, customers at Furry Face receive instructions
regarding proper feeding. Normal treats are replaced with more appropriate freeze-dried,
meat-only treats in significantly smaller sizes and quantities, and weight-loss progress is
recorded with scheduled weigh-ins, Grow said.
“We celebrate every pound that is shed and recalibrate should they get off track,”
Grow said. “Changing the viewpoint and providing better information to the pet parent is
paramount to long-term good health for the animal.”
EDUCATING RETAIL STAFF
KNOWLEDGE LEADS THE WAY
A well-trained staff is instrumental when it comes to imparting education and dietary advice, said
Mike Jupp, regional sales manager for Perham, Minn.-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods, maker of NutriSource.
Customers value the opinions of educated sales associates, agreed Sandy Wingerd, sales
associate for The Hitch N’ Post Feed and Tack in Tustin, Calif.
“It is very helpful when suppliers come in to discuss their products and provide training,” she said.
“I am able to speak with more confidence, and that comes through to the customer.”
Ongoing education is a crucial facet to ensuring that staff members are knowledgeable when
speaking with consumers about the benefits of a weight-loss-formula dog food, according to company
officials for Natural Balance Pet Foods in Burbank, Calif.
Further, it is a retailer’s duty to obtain guidance and acquire a working knowledge of the resources
provided by these brands, said Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis.
Assisting pet owners in helping their pets to have the best quality of life makes good
business sense, said Natural Balance officials. Pet owners rely on store employees for in-store
recommendations regarding the ideal products for their pet’s individual needs.
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., agreed that education is everything.
“Additionally, since almost all kibble-fed dogs eventually have weight issues, it is important that
pet parents understand the effect an all-starch/carbohydrate form of food consumed day after day has
on the metabolism and the body of a dog,” Grow added.
TIMING, OPTIONS, PROMOTION
Highlighting different diet types will help customers
understand all their options in the natural and
weight-loss marketplaces, said Rashell Cooper,
marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long
“In addition, working directly with the
manufacturer to help educate consumers and store
associates is paramount to correctly marketing
premium weight-loss diets,” Cooper added.
Retailers can best market foods in the weight-management category by supplying options and
spotlighting weight-management diets during
months when consumers are attempting to manage
their own weight, said Mike Jupp, regional sales
manager for Perham, Minn.-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods,
maker of NutriSource.
“For example, January is a great month to
promote the category on endcaps or center aisle
displays, because pet owners are making New
Year’s resolutions, including weight loss,” he said.
Bryan Nieman, brand director for Fromm Family
Foods in Mequon, Wis., noted that marketing and
advocacy of weight-loss foods circles back to
knowledge and expertise.
“We believe education is a vitally important part
of the sales process,” Nieman said. “Once a retailer
has a good working knowledge of the brands and
products being offered, the next step is consumer
That tutelage begins on the retail floor
through visual merchandising and the utilization
of shelf talkers, point-of-sale materials and other
promotional aids, he said.
“Retailers can also benefit from the use of their
social media platforms and other digital resources,
like small distribution lists, to continue the
conversation about healthy diets once the shopper
leaves their store,” Nieman added.
How has the weight-loss category grown or
changed over the past decade?
“We treat our pets like family and feed them like family. Over
the past several years, the number of consumers looking for
pet foods to help keep their pets in good health has grown,
along with a substantial increase in pet-owning households.
Therefore, the demand for different varieties of pet food is on
the rise.”—MIKE JUPP, regionalsalesmanager for Perham,
Minn.-based Tuffy’s Pet Foods, maker of NutriSource
“The increase in demand for
weight-management diets is less
about a growing obesity trend in
dogs and more about the resources
available to pet parents that may
not have been attainable a decade
ago. Today’s pet parents have access
to more digital outlets to help them
research weight-management options
for their pets. Further, increasing
demand for variety-driven recipes has
prompted manufacturers to deliver
specific diets including weight-man-
agement formulations. The result is
a growing segment that can provide
more targeted nutritional solutions to
help improve the health and well-being
of pets.”—BRYANNIEMAN, brand
director of Fromm Family Foods in
“We have not experienced an increase in demand
for weight-loss foods specifically. However, we
do see more customers inquiring about foods for
needs such as skin issues or sensitive stomachs,
and we carry a line of dog foods that address these
concerns, including a formulation for weight loss.”
—SANDY WINGERD, sales associate at The Hitch
N’ Post Feed and Tack in Tustin, Calif.