Industry insiders attribute steady growth of natural dog diets to
novel ingredients, brand differentiation and educated customers.
BY SANDY CHEBAT
With more pet owners becoming choosier about the foods they feed their pets, demand for natural dog food is on the rise. Industry insiders report that sales of natural dog
foods are climbing; however, the category has become more competitive, which is prompting manufacturers to get more creative
with the products they bring to market.
Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Tiki Pets, a brand
of St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, said pet food companies
must work harder to differentiate themselves and their products.
“The natural category is over saturated, and you really have to
work hard to stand out from the crowd,” she said.
Natasha Davis, client service manager for the POS tracking
(pet) team at GfK, a German market research firm with U.S. headquarters in New York, agreed.
“More shelf brands are trying to find distinctive points of dif-
ferentiation because it’s not enough to just say you’re natural,”
she said. “First it was grain free; now [it’s] with specific functions
and superfood ingredients and how they help with longevity and
Human trends continue to significantly influence natural dog
foods, according to industry insiders.
“The single most important influence on the natural diet cat-
egory continues to be the human food market,” Hudson said.
“‘Natural’ means good, and good means eating whole ingredients,
fruits, vegetables, lean meats, etc. And many of the things we feel
good about eating will eventually end up in our pet’s food.”
Even if pet foods have more recognizable ingredients, pet own-
ers still expect more from natural food companies—this is partic-
ularly true of millennials, who Davis said have a unique mindset
when it comes to which products they support.
“Millennials can see through the fluff marketing and are look-
ing for more information from brands, such as ‘How is it more nat-
ural?’ and ‘What are your business practices?’” Davis said. “They
look for holistically natural products, from sourcing to production
to U.S. made—there is strong U.S. sentiment.”
In addition to seeking greater transparency from manufactur-
ers, Julie Washington, chief marketing officer for Champion Pet-
foods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, said that pet owners desire
more ancestral feeding regimens.
“They seek foods pets once sought in nature, so a greater
presence of fresh and raw meat ingredients,” Washington said.
“They’re [also] looking at micronutrients in diets, and choice ro-
tation is a topic coming up more than before. Limited ingredient
has continued to grow because of dogs with sensitivities, allergies
Tracy Alford, owner of Animal Nutrition & Grooming Center
in Roseville, Calif., said she’s seeing more customers move away
from kibble to feeding canned, raw, dehydrated or freeze-dried
Barb Emmett, president and owner of Godfrey’s—Welcome to
Dogdom in Mohnton, Pa., reported similar trends in her store.
“Our growth is in raw,” she said.
The internet and social media largely influence what’s becoming popular with pet owners, according to insiders.
“These trends are coming from the internet blogs, Instagram
and Facebook posts, and warnings from the [U.S. Food and Drug
Administration],” Alford said.
Bryan Nieman, brand director at Fromm Family Pet Food in
Mequon, Wis., agreed.
“The ease in which pet parents can access information through
digital outlets and social media continues to drive awareness and
prompt demand,” he said.
Insiders concurred that dog owners increasingly want quality,
nutritional diets for their dogs and do not hesitate to educate themselves to make sure they are providing the very best.
“We have new customers every day who want to switch to
something healthier,” said Michelle McConnell, co-owner of A
Natural Pet Pantry in Osprey, Fla. “People are educating themselves and not necessarily taking their veterinarian’s recommendations without doing some research on their own.