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The Natural, Organic, Non-GMO Pet


Humanization is a hot trend in today’s pet food industry — and it will continue to drive sales and price increases, according to the “Pet Food – U.S. — May 2015” report from Chicago-based Mintel.

“Manufacturers should note that the pet food humanization trend translates into pet owners wanting the same quality and safety standards on pet food as on their own food,” the report notes.

That translates into big business for those manufacturers, as well as for retailers.

“The overall natural pet food segment is growing, and is currently around a $4 billion business,” observes Paul Cooke, VP and director of trade and industry development at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. “It has been the fastest-growing segment over the past few years, and we don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. In fact, we expect it could make up almost 25 percent of the overall pet food category within the next few years.”

What Pet Food Makers are Marketing

While Purina’s nutritional philosophy is to focus on the nutrients pets need, rather than on the ingredient list alone, the company does offer a variety of natural pet foods at grocery, Cooke notes.

The newest products in Purina’s lineup are Purina Dog Chow Natural and Purina Puppy Chow Natural, both of which start hitting grocery shelves in February.

“Dog Chow Natural is made with real chicken as the No. 1 ingredient, and both formulas are made without any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives,” says Cooke, who notes that the natural formulas — like all Purina Dog Chow products — are crafted in company-owned and -operated facilities in the United States.

Other natural offerings include Purina Beyond dog and cat foods, Purina Cat Chow Naturals, and Purely Fancy Feast.

Kaleb’s Organics is another company focusing on the natural and organic segment. The brand’s all-natural, organic, made-in-the-U.S.A. dog treats recently earned Non-GMO Project Verification — North America’s only independent verification for products made according to rigorous best practices for GMO (genetically modified organism) avoidance.

“Consumers are becoming more health-conscious [about] their pets’ diets, and want to know what’s in their [pets’] food. Research shows there are many concerns regarding GMOs, and we feel it’s important to avoid these ingredients at all costs,” says Deborah Viney, account executive for Brooklyn, N.Y.-based BH Pet Gear, Kaleb’s parent company.

The treats come in Peanut Butter Crunch, Banana Oatmeal, Blueberry Muffin, Cranberry Granola and Pizza Fusion flavors, with Peanut Butter Crunch emerging as a customer favorite, according to Viney.

Competing With Pet Specialty

While many consumers seek natural, organic and non-GMO products for their pets, only a small percentage buy those products at grocery and mass retailers — a fact that Purina’s Cooke attributes to “a lack of focus and visibility, specific to natural product sections.

“Unfortunately many consumers are unaware of the availability of natural products in the [grocery pet department,” he adds.

That opens a world of opportunity for retailers willing to stock more natural and organic items in the pet aisle. How they approach the category will determine how successful they ultimately will be in attracting pet parents, industry experts say.

“Natural pet food consumers are looking for brands that share their values, and foods that offer quality protein and simple, natural ingredients,” Cooke says. Interestingly, in most cases, what the pet food doesn’t contain — corn, wheat, soy or byproducts, for example — is almost as important as the ingredients it does offer, he adds.

“Retailers need to ensure that the brands they carry appeal to this type of customer,” Cooke advises. “It’s also important that retailers offer natural pet food options at a fair value, which is something grocery and mass shoppers have come to expect. Natural pet food sections with visibility in aisle/department are a must.”

Kaleb’s Viney suggests displaying shelf talkers that call attention to the products, and cross-merchandising and -marketing with the store’s natural food section, since customers who buy natural and organic food for themselves often look for similar products for their pets.

But retailers can’t succeed with just a one-size-fits-all approach, Cooke stresses.

“The grocery and mass retailers that win in pet are more heavily invested in the category at the store level,” he says. “They think of it as a pet department, not just one aisle, and they strive to exceed their customers’ expectations by being mindful of everything, from the brands they carry to the merchandising they display.”

“Natural pet food sections with visibility in aisle/department are a must.”
—Paul Cooke, Nestlé Purina PetCare

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