New innovations in functional and
specialty diets are keeping up with
consumer demand and canine needs.
BY SANDY CHEBAT
With more pet owners noting recurring canine health issues such as allergies, poor digestion and skin conditions, the demand for functional
and specialty diets that may help address these concerns are on the rise, according to pet specialty retailers.
“[Pet owners are] stepping into the independent pet
retailer looking for options, like a raw diet, which you
wouldn’t find in a traditional vet office,” said Darci Petercheff, business partner and nutritional consultant for
The Local Wag in Lexington, Ky.
Fabiola Rosales, assistant manager at Choice Pet in
Stamford, Conn., reported that dog owners are trying
out grain-free diets and new proteins.
“They’re removing chicken and grains to prevent the
dog from getting sensitive to it,” she said. “Grain free
is the biggest trend right now, and more raw foods are
coming into the picture to avoid the processing, and it’s
easier for [dogs] to digest the raw meat.”
Pets are a significant part of the family, especially
for millennials, reported multiple industry participants.
“Millennials are now the largest pet-owning seg-
ment in the U.S.,” said Robert L. Downey, president
and CEO of Annamaet Petfoods Inc. in Telford, Pa.
“They are 77 percent more likely to have a pet than
any other generation.”
Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for White-
bridge Pet Brands in St. Louis, agreed, adding that “in
some ways, pets have become a sort of replacement for
children,” which translates into a customer base that is
as choosy about pet foods as many parents are about
“They want to know where ingredients come from,
know how products are made and believe in the com-
panies that they buy from,” Hudson said. “They don’t want to be
marketed to; they want to be educated.”
Pet owners are also looking for foods with USA-sourced
ingredients that do not contain grains, gluten and meat byproducts,
as well as options that exclude preservatives, according to Kyla
Sternlieb, founder and president of Under the Weather in South
“Companies that can deliver this, and a positive social mission,
become top picks for today’s consumers,” she added.
Sustainability is one such mission, as it’s a significant focus for
dog owners, Downey said.
“Sustainability is becoming a major concern for people worldwide, with over 71 percent of Americans considering the environment when they shop,” he said.
Today’s manufacturers are responding with more transparency
as well as “an increased focus on quality ingredients and variety
within recipes,” said Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods in Mequon, Wis. “The elevated status of pets within the
family unit and the accessibility of information and variety of products on the market are driving forces behind these developments.”
THE NEED TO KNOW
While some customers are quite savvy about nutrition
for their dogs, retailers and manufacturers agreed that
most consumers need key information about functional
and specialty diets in order to make the best choices for
“When someone takes the initiative to come to a
pet specialty retailer, they are seeking knowledge to
understand and help their pets,” said Darci Petercheff,
business partner and nutritional consultant for The Local
Wag in Lexington, Ky. “You’re not selling anything; you’re
educating. The sales will come as you educate.”
Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet
parent relations for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas,
recommended that “when speaking to pet parents, ask
about their pet’s experience with other foods.”
“If the pet parent mentions any issues, this can be the
opportunity to educate them on the benefits of limited-in-
gredient diets and how pet parents can alleviate any food
sensitivity issues by eliminating certain ingredients from
their pet’s diet,” he said.
To be successful, industry insiders said, retailer and
staff education is imperative.
“Within the pet specialty segment, it is incredibly
important for retailers to have a good working knowledge
of the brands they are bringing to their customer base,
and the features and benefits of the products they sell,”
said Bryan Nieman, brand director of Fromm Family Foods
in Mequon, Wis.
At Furry Face Inc. in Redlands, Calif., staff members
“answer all questions, provide facts, have medical models
of dogs and cats showing their jaws and physiology, break
down pricing” and more, said owner Lorin Grow.
“There are many ways to obtain the education and
knowledge necessary, and it does take time, but it’s so
well worth it,” Grow said.
Fabiola Rosales, assistant manager at Choice Pet
in Stamford, Conn., said employees are educated about
all the foods the store carries and are trained to ask
customers about their needs and direct them to the food
that will best meet those needs, such as functional and
“We show customers how the foods are different and
direct them to look at labels, ingredients and protein levels for what’s appropriate for their dog’s age and weight,”
To help with retailer knowledge, many manufacturers
offer educational options including brand websites, point-of-sale materials, webinars and in-store training. Under
the Weather in South Burlington, Vt., even offers Skype
training calls when more education is needed.
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