Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y.
The company recently introduced
grain-free recipes, Gruber said, adding
that these are free from glutens, grains
and other unnecessary fillers.
Another emphasis in the category is
on higher-quality food offerings, with
growing interest in human-grade ingredients and healthful options.
“I believe that pet owners will increas-
ingly demand the same qualities in their
pet’s food that they want in their own
meals,” said Michael Landa, CEO of Nulo
Pet Food in Austin, Texas. “That’s why LID
[limited-ingredient diet] claims, paleo-in-
spired diets, natural, and gently pro-
cessed products such as raw and freeze
dried will clearly become more main-
stream—and the current growth in these
categories supports this prediction.”
Nulo Pet Food recently introduced
Limited+, a diet formulated with a sin-
gle protein, high-meat content and low-
er carbs. The company also unveiled its
Freeze-Dried Raw diet.
Specialty offerings that indicate premium status are grabbing an increasing
share of the market.
“We’re seeing a lot of products that
are ‘fresher’ options, including dehydrat-
ed, freeze dried and refrigerated fresh,”
said Lucy Postins, founder and chief in-
tegrity officer of The Honest Kitchen in
San Diego. “As more customers try these
foods and see the benefit in their pets’
well-being, the category will continue to
grow by word-of-mouth.”
When it comes to pet food sales, it’s
no secret that independent pet retailers
have been under pressure from various
competitors. Retailers increasingly find
that market conditions dictate having to
reduce their store footprint, and many
are choosing to focus almost exclusive-
ly on merchandising natural dog and cat
foods to retain their competitive edge.
“Retail is changing,” said Heidi Hill,
owner of Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif. “It’s going to become more of a requirement for retail stores to specialize.
I have to be more careful about … what
brands and foods I decide to carry, because I have a limited space.”
FITTING FOOD IN SMALL SPACES
Most retailers, even those carrying
non-natural offerings, reported that
merchandising in locations with small
square footage is a challenge.
“In our market, retail space is extremely expensive, so there’s no real
room for any kind of fancy displays,” said
Wendy Guyer, owner of Pet House in Go-leta, Calif.
She emphasized that education and
simple, easy-to-understand displays are
key to merchandising the category.
“We try to keep it neat and tidy,” she
said. “We try to organize it in a way that
Though specialized and downsized
retail space has its disadvantages, it also
creates a sense of expertise in the prod-
“I specialized only because of the
amount of space that we have,” Mar-
shall said. “If I could expand my footprint
more, I would carry more full-line [prod-
ucts]. But I think that folks come to us
because we specialize in specific prod-
ucts, and they know that we know what
we’re talking about.”
HOW TO INCREASE SALES
Carrying natural dog and cat foods gives
retailers a competitive edge, and focusing on education and manufacturer support means retailers can leverage sales
and grow their business.
“Retailers can win over and retain
more customers by stocking specialty
brands that can’t be found in supermarkets, big-box stores or mega pet chains,
as long as the value-added attributes of
these products are truly beneficial and
distinctive,” Pettyan said.
Communicating those benefits is
the key to building a customer base and
“We talk to every single person who
comes in,” Hill said. “We send out newsletters to educate people. I have a small
store, so it’s easy for us to have a conversation with each and every customer.”
Manufacturer support is also helpful,
giving retailers a way to bring in new
customers and incentivize repeat sales.
“It helps that [some companies] give
out samples,” Marshall said. “We utilize
those and convert a lot of customers
that way. … I think that the rewards program helps as well. Two of the brands I
have offer loyalty programs, which bring
customers back into my store versus the
big-box stores.” •
K ( 2 ) Carrying natural cat and dog foods gives retailers a
competitive edge, and many are finding success with
specific subcategories of these kinds of foods.