The love humans have for their cats and dogs continues to change consumers’ spending habits. Today’s pet owners seek high-quality, natural diets that may extend and improve their pets’ lives.
In 2021, an estimated $44.1 billion was spent on pet food and treats, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA)—and spending in this category is expected to increase this year.
Natural pet food sales, in particular, have increased, industry insiders reported. One reason for this growth can be attributed to the number of homes that welcomed pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Rob Cadenhead, general manager at St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, the parent company of pet food brand Hound & Gatos.
“During this time, people became more conscious of their personal health and that of their pets too,” Cadenhead said. “When shopping for foods especially, consumers seem to gravitate more towards those made with natural ingredients.”
More pet owners are embracing natural diets, which are often perceived to be made with higher-quality ingredients. However, “natural” tends to have different definitions—depending on each brand and business.
Holistic nutrition is a focus for pet food manufacturer Solid Gold.
“Natural food usually is food ‘free from’ artificial ingredients,” said Steve Ball, CEO of North America for Orlando, Fla.-based H&H Group, the parent company of Solid Gold. “But as the pioneer brand on holistic pet food, we at Solid Gold are about holistic pet food, which looks at whole-body health.”
Solid Gold was founded on the simple belief that every pet deserves the longest, happiest life possible and that quality nutrition is the way to achieve this goal, Ball explained. The company’s products are manufactured in the US
“Our holistic recipes balance nutrient-dense superfoods with high-quality proteins to provide transformative lifelong health benefits for our furry family members,” Ball added.
At Hound & Gatos, natural foods are defined as minimally processed, and free of additives and preservatives as well as artificial ingredients, flavors and colors, Cadenhead said. The company’s recipes start with cuts of pure meat, fish or poultry from trusted sources and do not include any plant proteins, byproducts, wheat, corn, soy, carrageenan, or artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.
“Today’s pet parents seem particularly receptive to natural diets on their own, but it also helps when they are formulated with ingredients that serve a functional purpose,” Cadenhead said. “It’s important that our retailer partners understand Hound & Gatos foods were created specifically to cater to these customers.”
Retailers often have their own definition of ‘natural.’
“In our store, ‘natural’ means as close to an ‘ancestral’ diet as possible,” said Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va. “We are strong in frozen or freeze-dried raw foods, gently cooked/flash-frozen foods, high-protein kibble and dehydrated options.”
Zeller said she sells food that she feels comfortable feeding her family pets, which narrows down the field in terms of what she stocks. In addition, supply chain shortages have impacted some of the products she carries.
“Most of our newer items stocked are in response to supply shortages or brands who have sadly chosen to put their direct-to-consumer sales as their priority,” Zeller said. “We’re seeing a great increase in [both] Grandma Lucy’s products and Primal Pet Foods, since [some] supply issues are still ongoing.”
Pet owners are paying attention to the premium ingredients used in cat and dog foods.
“With so many options available, pet parents are also being more cognizant and [are] more educated on what specific ingredients are in their pet’s food,” Ball said. “[Ultimately]they are more conscious about the brands they choose.”
Given strong demand for natural pet foods, many varieties have come onto the market.
“Today, we’re noticing an increase in the options and varieties available on shelves,” Cadenhead said. “We’re seeing recipes made with more unique and alternative proteins. These are also great options, as they accommodate pets with food allergies or aversions to specific proteins.”
Solid Gold recently launched the Nutrientboost line, a plasma-packed selection of products for dogs and cats, including dry kibble and meal toppers. Nutrientboost includes essential minerals, 18 amino acids, and antibodies to boost the immune system and gut health, Ball said.
“It also improves digestion by increasing the overall nutrient absorption and stimulates appetites through its cravable natural flavor,” Ball said.
“Our industry continues to focus on natural options for pets, [and] harnessing the power of those nutrients that our canines and felines need to thrive,” Ball added. “We are excited to continue delivering holistic recipes that nourish our consumers’ fur babies.”
Know Your Demographic
For pet specialty retailers, carrying a wide assortment of natural cat and dog food is the best way to reach various types of customers.
At Pet Food Depot, a pet store in Phoenix, office manager and buyer Addie Schuhle said carrying middle-of-the-road price points is necessary to care for a wide range of customers. She also recommends having a frequent-buyer program for loyal shoppers.
“You need to have the best choice [of food at] each price point,” she said. “It clearly depends on your market. [You also need to] know what differentiates each level of pet food and understand how to express that to a customer.”
Schuhle added that she has seen shoppers shift toward reasonably priced pet food brands.
“We have seen a substantial increase in sales during the past year because customers really just want good food at a good price,” she said
Understanding customer demographics is essential for pet retailers that are considering what types of foods to carry, said Randy Klein, owner of Whiskers Holistic Petcare, which has two locations in New York.
“You have to be committed to natural pet food if you’re carrying it in your store, and you need to know your customer base,” Klein said. “Are they willing to pay more, or do you mostly have people who only buy it by the price?”
Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., agreed and takes a similar approach.
“Our city is a mix of university students, families and retirees, so we provide what we feel are the most nutritious options in price points that work with that demographic,” she said.
Retailers might also want to consider shelf space and educational opportunities as they put together their assortments.
“It’s a good idea to dedicate a specific section of the store to the natural category so that shoppers can find everything they’re looking for in one place,” said Rob Cadenhead, general manager at St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, the parent company of pet food brand Hound & Gatos. “It’s also helpful to have sales materials displayed and readily available.”
Steve Ball, CEO of North America for Orlando, Fla.-based H&H Group, the parent company of Solid Gold, agreed that point-of-sale materials can be helpful.
“Retailers should lean into interactive experiences, well-thought-out displays and educational opportunities as ways to get shoppers’ attention,” he said. “Including QR codes at the point of sale allows for omnichannel education and purchase, as well as larger assortment access.”