SHOWING THE BENEFITS OF RAW
Raw cat food is still attracting plenty of new customers to the category, and
that means there is a lot of opportunity for education. The need for education
is an excellent opportunity for pet retailers to showcase their knowledge,
setting themselves apart from big-box retailers and online sellers.
“Generally, consumers need to be better educated on what types of foods
are best for their cats,” said Kevin Malnor, vice president of marketing and
sales for Vital Essentials in Green Bay, Wis. “Many cat foods include grains,
fruits, vegetables, fillers and other types of carbohydrates that are not benefi-
cial to their pet. Consumers and retailers need to be aware of the health risks
these types of foods pose.”
Even if pet owners know they want to try a raw diet, they might be con-
fused about their options, said Reed Howlett, CEO of St. Louis-based Nature’s
Variety Inc., maker of Instinct Pet Food.
“While awareness and understanding of raw is growing broadly, pet
parents are still very confused by the pet food landscape,” Howlett said. “The
pet food space is cluttered and overwhelming for the consumer, and in many
cases, the differences between the various options can seem confusing.
Retailers need tools to cut through the buzzwords like ‘natural,’ ‘organic’
and ‘clean’ to help consumers really find the credible and simple information
Benjamin Richard, a sales associate with Four Paws & Co. in Longmont,
Colo., said that educational opportunities often give him the chance to point
customers toward a raw diet. When cat owners come to the store with ques-
tions or a health concern, he can suggest they change their cat’s diet.
“Cat owners will come in with a lot of questions about a certain problem
their cat is having, and we’ll recommend that they try switching to a raw diet,”
Richard said. “They often come back with a lot of positive feedback about how
it worked. Word-of-mouth can then help encourage others to try it.”
Jenna Wilson, owner of Patton Avenue Pet Co., which has three locations
in Asheville, N.C., said that glass-front freezers are very important when it
comes to selling raw. While signage can help, nothing compares to having
a glass-front freezer, she said. Of course, she added, investing in them does
mean committing to the category.
“It’s not the kind of category you can just dip your toe in and be success-
ful,” Wilson said. “You can’t do it halfheartedly by buying just a few SKUs and
sticking them in a regular freezer—it’s not going to go over well with your
customers. We are all in when it comes to raw. We believe in it, so we’ve
really invested in the category—including buying only glass-front freezers to
Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World in Natick, Mass., agreed and said
glass-front freezers are “well worth the money.” Just having the raw food on
display in a freezer you can see in to is enough to draw customers over, he
“With a freezer that you can’t see in to, you must hope that the customer
is going to read your signs and be intrigued enough to look inside,” Lavallee
said. “Plus, when you can’t see through the glass, it’s getting opened and
closed a lot more. You run the risk that they’ll open it just to look inside and
won’t close it all the way. That could thaw your merchandise. We think that
displaying raw food within glass-door freezers is important.”
Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food
Inc. in Portland, Ore., said that creating some “fanfare” around the raw
category is one of the best ways to draw customers to the freezer section. At
the end of the day, nothing beats one-on-one conversations with cat owners
Wilson said that being a small, independent retailer gives her the ability
to have those conversations that big pet retailers can’t have. It’s all about
consultation, she said.
“That’s something that sets us apart,” Wilson said. “Our staff is really
well educated on raw, and we can take the time to talk our customers
through it. They come to us for that support.”
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