A challenging aspect of selling natural pet foods, according toindustryparticipants, isthat definitionsof whatconstitutes “natural foods” vary. While manufacturers and pet specialty retailers agreed that pet owners expect natural products, uncertainty remains
about what natural foods and ingredients
are. How natural is defined is often in the
eye of the beholder, however, there are
similarities in how industry insiders view
“In today’s market, ‘natural’ refers to
products that do not contain any chem-
ically developed ingredients,” said Matt
Golladay, president of BrightPet Nutrition
Group in Lisbon, Ohio. “All of the ingredi-
ents present in the product are ‘found in
nature’ and are derived from plants, ani-
mals or mined sources.”
Pennye Jones-Napier, founder and co-
owner of The Big Bad Woof Retail & Deliv-
ery in Washington, D.C., added that natural
also encompasses the process in which in-
gredients are grown.
“It is a perception that the foods are
grown or raised and harvested in a sustainable, natural manner,” she said.
Despite the unclear definition of the
term, sales of natural pet foods continue
to trend upward.
“The natural pet foods segment con-
tinues to gain market share,” said Tim Si-
monds, president of Merrick Pet Care in
In the past five years, Northwest Pet
Resort in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has grown
its natural pet food section from four bags
of dog food and one for cats to at least 15
brands of pet food, said co-owner Ashley
Jones-Napier attributed the positive
trend, in part, to some online retailers no
longer carrying some of the natural brands
and to “several natural food brands doing a
good job pushing consumers into indepen-
dent pet retailers’ stores.”
Customers witnessing the benefits of
these products also sustains the trend.
“Once people see the difference a natural food makes in the health and vitality of
their pets, the food sells itself,” said Tammy Doak, owner of Bark Avenue Market &
Bakery in Colleyville, Texas.
The freeze-dried segment is also a driver in the natural category.
“Freeze-dried raw continues to gain
traction for both cats and dogs as pet parents become more interested in ancestral
diets for their pets,” Simonds said.
In addition to raw, dehydrated and
freeze-dried foods, Ansel said she has noticed a rise in specialized blends, such as
for small or large breeds, low-glycemic formulas and unique proteins.
“Blends with probiotics and prebiotics
are huge right now because people under-
stand that pets need the same flora as us
for our diets, for optimal digestion and for
absorption in their foods,” she said. “For
cats, we see grain free, unique proteins,
healthy grain diets and low ash.”
Golladay reported growth in specifical-
ly limited-ingredient foods, raw/alternative
feeding and chicken-free diets because the
protein is often blamed for dog allergies.
“The cat category tends to follow dog
trends, but usually at a slower pace,” he
added. “While cat is still currently expe-
riencing the grain-free boom, it will likely
begin to mimic where dog has been head-
Consumers are also seeking legume-
free diets, said Jeremy J. Petersen, founder,
president and CEO of Identity Pet Nutrition
Jones-Napier said she continues to see
big market growth in toppers. She added
that because of venison shortages, there is
a big push to rabbit meat and bison.
On the feline side, emu has emerged as
“There’s a new emu diet for cats, which
is a really great meat to use in general
because it’s such a lean meat, like rabbit,
and has nice attributes in it,” she said. “It’s
intriguing seeing emu coming out more in
the raw diet.”
Natural pet foods continue to gain market
share as savvy businesses cater to a growing
population of discerning pet owners.
By Sandy Chebat