A Natural Evolution
Several new trends in the pet food category are helping to define and
shape what it means to be a “natural” product.
DOG AND CAT
BY KEITH LORIA
The definition of “natural pet foods” and the criteria by which they are deemed “natural” continue to become more nuanced as the category evolves and pet owners become increasingly
discerning and knowledgeable, according to industry insiders.
Pet food manufacturers are responding to these changing consumer expectations and demands with new formulations and by offering
carefully sourced ingredients and using manufacturing processes
that make for the most nutritious and palatable outcome.
Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash On Life in Albuquerque,
N.M., said thoughtful pet food companies are reducing the proportion
of rendered meat meals in dry food as these are typically a combination of highly processed meat, carcass and bones that well-informed
consumers often avoid when shopping for pet food. Additionally,
some brands have removed rendered meals completely from their pet
food and substituted dehydrated meats, which he said are considered
a more natural choice.
“Other brands go beyond natural by formulating pet foods that
are high quality, restricted in genetically modified organisms (GMO)
and human grade,” he said. “Many pet foods claim being ‘natural,’
yet they include ingredients that no self-respecting natural-product
aficionado would ever consider applicable.”
There is a continuing focus on clean and responsible sourcing of
ingredients as well as environmental conscientiousness in product
formulation, said Lucy Postins, founder and chief integrity officer of
The Honest Kitchen in San Diego.
“Consumers continue to become more and more aware of the
harmful effects of many artificial additives in the food supply as well
as the detrimental effects of extreme production methods—for exam-
ple, very high heat processing that leads to the production of carcino-
gens like heterocyclic amines,” she said.
Amy Fiumarelli, co-owner of Amy’s Animals Holistic Canine &
Feline Nutrition Center in Wantage, N.J., said she tries to educate customers that the most healthful foods for cats and dogs are generally
not found on grocery store shelves.
“I address every customer as they come in the store, and I utilize
my knowledge and my ability to tell them what the real deal is in how
they should feed their pets,” she said. “When they try, they will see
the difference and keep coming back.”
Joe Toscano, vice president and director of industry relations for
Nestlé Purina Petcare in St. Louis, noted that there are three trends
evolving in human food now inspiring pet food purchase deci-
sions—outcome-based nutrition, ingredient stories and food as an
“The most successful retailers are expanding their pet department to accommodate new brands—capturing increased sales from
the trade-up, while not losing existing shoppers, and supporting
the overall department with a balanced promotional strategy,” he
Demand for limited-ingredient diets that feature single-source, natural proteins as well as grain-free diets also remains strong, said Matt
Golladay, president of Lisbon, Ohio-based BrightPet Nutrition Group,
parent company of Blackwood, Adirondack and By Nature Pet Foods.
“Even with the recent U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
feedback about grain-free diets, that segment of the market continues
to grow,” he said. “Consumers are also wanting to feed the healthy
ingredients they feed themselves and their families to their pets
and are searching for recipes that contain superfood ingredients that
offer an array of health benefits.”
CATCH THE EYE
Highlighting the benefits of natural pet diets through merchandising displays
can help educate the consumer and boost sales in the category, according to
pet retailers and food manufacturers.
At Garden City Pet in Augusta, Ga., owner Tiana O’Neill keeps the natural
pet food together, displayed on black wire mesh shelving in a prominent
area of the store. O’Neill said she wants to be able to discuss the food with
all customers who come in the store.
“At least 80 percent of my customers have never seen natural food,
and none of this would sell itself if I didn’t educate them,” she said. “I’m
passionate about animal nutrition, and I explain why they should switch their
dogs’ food, and about 95 percent make the switch.”
O’Neill recently won a contest sponsored by Champion Petfoods where
she set up an interactive and educational display, complete with signs,
sample bags and brochures for customers to take with them.
“It has a diagram of a dog and explained why a dog is a carnivore more
than anything and needed this food,” she said. “People noticed it as soon as
they walked in the store, and it helped me to engage with them.”
The Honest Kitchen has seen a lot of success at stores that merchandise
natural, organic and eco-friendly products together, to make them a
destination within the store, said Lucy Postins, founder and chief integrity
officer of the San Diego-based company.
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