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Premium Pet Products Find Success in Supermarkets

Premium Pet Products Find Success in Supermarkets

"We spend more of our lives enjoying the discomfort of harmful blue light slowly burning our retinas than we do looking into the eyes of other human beings,” says Travis Day, founder and CEO of Bingin Dog. Named for Day’s favorite beach in Bali, the Tualatin, Ore.-based brand offers ultra-soft and durable premium neoprene dog accessories incorporating surf style.

“Dogs provide us with relief in the form of companionship and more human interaction,” Day continues. “Dogs aren’t shy; they aren’t worried about judgment or rejection; they greet everyone with excitement and the possibility of being best friends. In our new age of keeping to ourselves, dogs give us permission to get back to our roots, let down our guard and say the hardest thing for so many people: ‘Hi.’”

It’s not just dogs carrying the load: Animals have been shown to be a great source of emotional support. Interacting with pets has been shown to decrease stress and lower blood pressure. Research carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in partnership with the Mars Corp.’s Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition has found that animals can reduce the overall feeling of loneliness, as well as boost mood. From autism to ADHD to diabetes, there are studies to support the idea that caring for an animal can have positive effects on many human health conditions. As a result, grateful humans want to give back to their pet companions.

Key Takeaways

  • Caring for an animal can have beneficial effects on many human health conditions, inspiring grateful humans to give back to their faithful pet companions.
  • As a result, pets have become part of the family, with their human “parents” treating them and spending on them accordingly.
  • Stocking and prominently merchandising premium pet products in this quickly evolving segment is a win for both the retailer and the consumer; pricing and consumer education are also key considerations.

Buying Better

Pet owners wanting the best for their companions isn’t anything new, as David Hoper, owner of Dia’s Market & Deli, a neighborhood specialty grocery store and deli in Austin, Texas, knows well. Dia’s curates its products, from wine and cheese to trail mix and vegan snacks. It makes a lot of its own products, including granola, pesto and rotisserie chickens. And it carries only all-natural pet foods and treats. “It’s been a trend for about 20 years that pets are considered more a part of the household,” Hoper observes. 

“The Baby Boomers are becoming empty nesters now and need [company], and the younger generation of couples are opting for a ‘fur baby’ instead of a baby to begin their families,” he continues. “Naturally, there are more services, food options and insurance to help your pet live a healthier and longer life.” For many, this means seeking out premium pet products that are better for their pets and better quality in general. 

“Pets really have become part of the family, and we’re treating and spending on them in that way,” agrees Jake Trainor, director of marketing at Secaucus, N.J.-based Freshpet, which created the fresh/refrigerated pet food segment in the United States back in 2006. The company’s co-founders saw a big shift taking place in the way that consumers were feeding themselves and their families — fresher, less processed, healthy food — but nothing had fundamentally changed in pet food in the last 50 years. Freshpet’s products start with using the freshest ingredients and only high-quality U.S. farm-raised poultry, beef and fish.

“Over 75 percent of pet parents see their pet as part of the family, and 50 percent see their pet as their child,” asserts Trainor. “We’re seeing that translate into the food people are feeding [their pets,] and Freshpet is gaining loyal fans every day.”

Defining Premium

The term “premium,” like many things, is subjective. For many, it’s the combination of quality and a differentiating factor that causes it to stand alone, above the competition. “For ages, innovation in the pet industry has been slapping a new color on the same old piece of nylon,” explains Day, of Bingin Dog. 

He goes on to tick off the signs that denote a premium pet product: “The material being used is of higher quality than your standard nylon. Every detail is taken into consideration, from stitching to the way the product is packaged. Continuity in branding and a clear representation of what the company stands for. The product is unique in its style, comfort and functionality. You are proud of your purchase and want to show off the product!” 

Fresh from the Kitchen is one of Freshpet’s best-selling premium products, offering a pet meal similar to something owners might prepare for their furry friends

For food products, it can be slightly different. Freshpet’s Trainor believes that premium pet food can attract a wide variety of consumers as long as they have one thing in common: “Anyone that sees their pet as part of their family and wants to feed or treat them in that way would fit in the premium consideration set.” 

He adds: “For us, a premium product isn’t just about using natural ingredients. Premium is about giving your pet food that is as close as possible to a home-cooked meal, using whole, real ingredients you can see, that are cooked or steamed so the end product looks, smells and tastes as close as possible to something you’d make in your own kitchen.”

One of Freshpet’s best-selling premium products is Fresh from the Kitchen. “We hear from pet parents that this product is the next best thing to a home-cooked meal for their dog,” notes Trainor. “We start with locally sourced fresh chicken, then shred and combine [it] with carrots, spinach and cranberries for a complete and balanced meal.” The brand has also just recently launched a Multi-Protein Roll and Multi-Protein Meal, both of which combine high-quality meats and vegetables. 

Wegmans New Pet Food Offerings

Portland Pet Food Company (PPFC), a Portland, Ore.-based natural pet nutrition manufacturer, of human-grade dog meals and treats will now be available on the East Coast in all Wegmans Food Markets stores.

All 99 of the Rochester, N.Y.-based grocer’s locations New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia will carry PPFC’s Rosie’s Beef N’ Rice (wheat- and gluten-free) and Hopkin’s Pork N’ Potato (grain-, wheat- and gluten-free) meal pouches.

“With the addition of Wegmans, our East Coast expansion follows the same pattern that defined our West Coast growth,” says Kate McCarron, PPFC’s “top dog.” “Our market footprint has grown dramatically in the natural grocery segment of retail food sales. We are in West Coast stores from Seattle to San Diego, including Whole Foods NW, New Seasons Market, Market of Choice, Zupans, Metropolitan Markets, PCC Markets, Gelson’s and Bristol Farms, to name a few. Further contracts in the East, South, Southeast, Mid-South, Midwest and Northern California are coming this year.”

In response to the rising need for simple, clean-label products for pets, PPFC is the first pet food company to use 100 percent human-grade USDA meats and ingredients in its products, which are all sourced and prepared in the United States.

The company’s presence in high-end natural grocery stores and pet specialty stores has placed PPFC products in major metropolitan regions where its target customers — millennials and baby boomers — live.

Additionally, 5 percent of all PPFC sales are donated to nonprofits that support animals. 

Upselling and Merchandising

Day believes that stocking premium pet products is a win for both the retailer and the consumer. “When stocking premium products, retailers get to advertise fun and unique brands not available at your typical big-box store,” he observes. “Retailers get to educate buyers about the benefits of these products, showing they care about the health and well-being of each pet. Retailers get to be at the forefront of innovation and new industry trends.”

He continues: “Consumers get more options. The pet industry continues to explode, and the selection of premium products and accessories is slow to catch up. Customers are dying for more options.”

Grocers can sell more premium pet products through careful curation and presentation of premium brands. For Freshpet, the solution is a refrigerated display in the pet food section. The fridge serves to make the product stand out among all of the other ones that sit on the shelves. 

“The entire pet category has seen a consumer shift from value brands to premium and super-premium offerings as pet parents look to upgrade what they feed their pets,” notes Trainor.  “Retailers are seeing larger baskets due to this trade-up, and consumers are seeing higher-quality offerings they can choose from for their pet.” 

He advises: “The biggest thing I’d recommend is for retailers to move fast. The category is evolving very quickly, and having unique offerings with shorter purchase cycles is key to continually bringing consumers back into their stores.”

Day agrees that eye-catching displays can be highly effective in attracting buyers. “We’ve had huge success providing POP displays to showcase our products in store,” he says. “The display tells our unique story; gives off our fun, beachy vibe; and gives customers an entire experience into what we do and why our products are superior.”

Selection also plays a part in retailer success, explains Hoper, of Dia’s. “Having a nice variety of both cat and dog products [food and treats] is important,” he counsels. “Also make sure to have both dry and canned options for both.  Pricing your items is important because of online ordering ease of use.”

Simply having premium pet items on the shelves shows consumers that grocers care about the brands they offer. “It matches our philosophy and mission to provide a store with high-quality products in mind,” says Hoper. “This helps customers to know they can trust the brands we select for both them and their pets.” 

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