BY DAVID LUMMIS
Remember when “superpremium”—that nebulous term applied to much-higher-than- average-priced pet food—was largely a channel distinction? Along with marketing claims and formulations such as natural, real meat and grain free, being available
exclusively through pet specialty retailers was once a non-negotiable earmark of any true
Through the years, however, pet specialty brand marketers, unable to resist the
temptation of high-volume mass channel sales, have muddied those waters, as have
big-box pet specialty chains unable to pass on pet shoppers devoted to lower-priced
mass-market fare. The biggest blow to the longstanding pet specialty and mass divide,
which feels far more sudden, is the lightning-speed advancement of e-commerce over
the past couple of years.
Today, pet shoppers can pick up (“click up?”) and have home-delivered just about
any formerly pet-specialty-exclusive pet food brand on Chewy.com, Amazon.com or
Walmart.com, with pages and pages devoted to natural and grain-free options. Don’t
expect that trend to peter out anytime soon, either. Within the next four years, e-commerce
will account for 25 percent of U.S. pet product sales, conservatively estimating, up from
14 percent in 2017.
Meanwhile, kibble is beginning to look like a next-generation superpremium pet food
nonstarter. Kibble producers have scaled up mightily in the past 10 or so years, and many
of the products are top-notch ingredient-wise. But when it comes to what they put in their
own mouths, U.S. food shoppers want it fresh. In Packaged Facts’ January/February 2018
survey of U.S. food shoppers, “fresh” came out on top as an “especially appealing” food
characteristic overall ( 74 percent) as well among dog and cat owners ( 75 percent). Nothing
else comes close, next in line being “quick to cook/prepare,” “comfort food,” and “low
price,” each at around half of U.S. shoppers. It’s no wonder, then, that pet food makers
and retailers looking for the next big superpremium thing are now taking fresh to the limit
while increasingly boasting ingredients that are human grade.
To give credit where credit is due, one company that saw the fresh
trend coming is Freshpet, whose refrigerated pet food hit the market
in 2006 and is now available in more than 19,000 fridges nationwide.
When it comes to human grade, a hat tip goes to the pioneering Honest Kitchen, which, way back in 2007, went to court and won the right
to make the claim “human food grade” on the labeling of its freeze-dried pet food mixes.
The emerging generation of fresh pet food is, however, something
else altogether, and it isn’t just hype:
• In May 2016, The Farmer’s Dog, a subscription-based seller of human-grade pet food, raised $2 million in seed funding, and in May
2017, the company closed an $8.1 million series A financing round
led by Shasta Ventures.
• In August 2017, Ollie, an online seller of human-grade, customized
pet food diets, raised $12.6 million in series A funding led by Canaan Partners, bringing its funding to $17 million.
• In May 2018, PetPlate, a direct-to-consumer subscription service that
delivers preportioned, human-grade dog meals that are ready to
eat from the refrigerator or microwavable, closed a $4 million seed
round led by Dane Creek Capital.
But wait. In mid-June 2018, Ollie announced an omnichannel ven-
ture with Walmart’s Jet.com. “We’re excited to expand Ollie’s reach
with the Jet.com partnership, while simultaneously introducing
freshly cooked, human-grade pet food to Jet.com’s audience of pet
parents,” said Gabby Slome, co-founder and chief experience officer
of New York-based Ollie, in a company press release. “Investing in
new distribution channels—particularly within the family of brands
of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart Inc.—allows us to bring further
awareness to the health benefits of all-natural pet food and helps us in
our mission to put pets first.”
Teaming up with JustFoodForDogs, Petco is taking the fresh pet
food experience even further. In May 2018, Petco announced that
it would begin offering JustFoodForDogs’ complete range of fresh,
small-batch, human-grade food for dogs via store-within-store pan-
tries or full exhibition kitchens, with the first pantries opening right
away and the first full kitchens by the end of 2018. “The customer
has complete visibility into the
process,” Rebecca Frechette, Pet-
co’s executive vice president and
chief merchandising officer, told
the Los Angeles Times (May 19).
“They can see the raw ingredi-
ents, see the chef cooking the in-
gredients, and buy the food that
has just been made fresh in that
More than a decade ago, I
speculated that, absent signifi-
cantly faster growth in the dog and cat population, the U.S. pet food market could not be
expected to sustain healthy sales growth without expanding beyond shelf-stable products,
and I stand by that. From kibble and wet pet food featuring images of fresh ingredients
on the packaging to chub packs of pet food sold in refrigerator cases to the complete and
balanced diets prepared in-store in front of the shopper, “fresh” as it applies to pet food
has reached its human-style apex. This isn’t to say that fresh-prepared pet food, which is
way more expensive than even the highest-priced kibble, is or ever will be for every dog or
cat owner. But it’s upper-income pet households that have been doing much of the super-
premium heavy lifting, and plenty of others are willing to splurge if it means a healthier,
happier pet. Factor in the commitment of heavy hitters like Walmart and Petco, and it’s
hard not to conclude that, superpremium-pet-food-wise, the future is fresh.
David Lummis is the lead pet-market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of
MarketResearch.com, and author of Packaged Facts’ U.S. Pet Market Outlook,
2018-2019—August 2018 Update ( packagedfacts.com).
Superpremium Pet Food’s Future Is Fresh
More companies that tout fresh, human-grade pet foods have emerged to the
fanfare of investors, spurring the next trend in the superpremium category.
Since it launched in 2016, Ollie, a subscription-based
seller of human-grade pet foods, has raised $17
million from venture capitalists.