FOR PUPPIES AND SENIORS
The age-specific dog food segment is time-tested, and many
manufacturers already offer lines specifically for dogs at different
life stages, but innovation continues, and several manufacturers
are producing new formulations to serve the category.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition recently released Hill’s Science Diet Youthful Vitality Food, formulated for dogs 7 years of age or older, to
help combat the negative side effects of aging, said Kathy Gross,
director of clinical nutrition for the Topeka, Kan.-based company.
The diet is formulated with ingredients meant to provide key
nutrients important for aging pets, Gross added.
“The American Animal Hospital Association recommends
that pets have a senior veterinary health screening at about
age 7,” she said. “Pet parents are beginning to recognize the
importance of feeding pets an age-specific food.”
Other manufacturers are also expanding their age-specific
options. Sojos recently launched Sojos Complete for Puppies, the
first life-stage food in the raw, shelf-stable food category, said Jen
Loesch, general manager for the Minneapolis-based company.
“Sojos Complete for Puppies is appropriate for all breeds,”
she said. “It combines raw, freeze-dried turkey and omega-rich
salmon with select superfoods and a blend of essential vitamins
EW PRODUCTS USTOMER EDUCATION ERCHANDISING
When it comes to anything dietary, store owners have to engage customers in a conversation and find
out how to meet their needs, industry participants reported.
Increasingly, though, customers are displaying knowledge right from the start, and meeting their
needs might mean staying up-to-date on recent trends.
“People are fairly well educated,” said Jeff Elmendorf, manager at The Dog Store in Alexandria, Va.
“Some people know more than I do about the foods.”
He relies on staying informed so that he can make the best recommendations.
“I do the research,” he said. “I try to stay as well educated as I can, and people come to rely on the
information that I have.”
Customers usually ask a lot of questions, Elmendorf added, and he’ll make recommendations based
on the feedback he receives and what price point the customer expects.
One area customers might not have as much experience in is with nutrition guidelines for older pets.
“Educating pet owners about the nutritional needs of aging pets is key,” said Paul Cooke, vice pres-
ident of industry development at Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. in St. Louis. “Many pet owners may not be
aware of the changes that happen to their pets as they age or that nutrition can have a positive impact
on their healthspan, the period of life spent in good health.”
Retailers should be prepared to provide research-based information on pet nutrition and help guide
consumers through choosing the right diet based on that information, Cooke said.
Many manufacturers provide information for retailers and customers about various lines of research
they’ve conducted, or otherwise share dietary guidelines with the public. It might be helpful for retailers
to keep information readily accessible on brands they carry to drive the conversation and make authoritative recommendations to customers.
KEEP AGE-SPECIFIC FOODS TOP OF MIND
Making a connection with customers is vital to effectively
merchandising age-specific dog foods, and creating a space for
them to interact with store employees can help drive sales.
“Ensure that team members are well versed on all
things puppy,” said Jen Loesch, general manager for Sojos in
Minneapolis. “Consider creating puppy-focused shelf sets or
end aisles. Maybe even invite new puppy owners to display
their ‘baby’ photos.”
The goal is to make customers comfortable so that it’s
easier to open a dialogue.
“I [make pet foods] very visible, and if people want to ask
me questions about it, they can,” said Jeff Elmendorf, manager
at The Dog Store in Alexandria, Va. “I’ve been in retail too long
to hop in [customers’] faces and start giving them a spiel about
why they should switch their dog to a particular food. I find you
can’t do that in this business.”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the goal is to
serve customers’ needs so that retailers can build repeat sales.
“We don’t make a lot of money on our food,” Elmendorf
said. “I’m concerned about the dog’s health … and the longevity
of the dog. … We hope that if [customers have] healthy, happy
dogs, they’re going to want treats and toys.”