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    Better for Pets

    Healthy formulations help drive sales.

    By Kathleen Furore

    People love their pets, and they?re spending more than ever to prove it by making sure their furry family members are well fed.

    According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), U.S. consumers will spend an estimated $58.51 billion on pets in 2014; food sales are projected to comprise $22.62 billion of total expenditures.

    ?The food category is expected to reach an all-time high in 2014,? Greenwich, Conn.-based APPA says. ?Surpassing previous estimated growth in 2013, food sales prove yet again to be consistently increasing, with a growth of 4.5 percent. This category remains the highest-spending segment of the pet industry as pet food trends continue to follow human food and diet trends.?

    Health-and-wellness Themes are Hot

    Today?s pet food trends mimic those in the general food and beverage marketplace. Consumers are more interested in healthy and organic products, and they?re seeking similarly healthy formulations for their pets? diets, industry experts note.

    ?Both food and veterinary care are strongly influenced by consumers? growing interest in improved health care for their pets,? APPA President and CEO Bob Vetere says. ?Health-and-wellness-related themes represent the most powerful trends across all segments of the industry, and will continue to do so again this year.?

    Data from a 2014 Packaged Facts pet shopper survey support the APPA?s findings.

    Fifty-one percent of U.S. dog owners and 44 percent of U.S. cat owners buy at least one kind of specialty pet nutrition product ? and those kinds of purchases are on the rise, information from Rockville, Md.-based Packaged Facts reveals. During a presentation at the APPA?s Global Pet Expo in March and at Petfood Forum 2014, Packaged Facts Research Director David Sprinkle said 41 percent of U.S. dog owners reported purchasing one or more types of specialty-ingredient formulation dog food when the company asked a similar question in 2013, as reported by petfoodindustry.com.

    Manufacturers Respond

    Pet food manufacturers are making sure health-conscious shoppers have choices when it comes to feeding their pets.

    Examples abound. Hill?s reformulated its Science Diet as a natural product, Walmart launched Pure Balance as its first natural pet food store brand, Nestlé Purina has come on strong with Purina One Beyond, Merrick acquired Castor & Pollux and obtained organic certification, and Del Monte acquired Natural Balance, according to the July 2013 Packaged Facts report ?Pet Food in the U.S., 10th Edition.? ?Everyone is stepping up their game to take advantage of the natural boom,? the report noted. ?Yet another market driver is the fact that, more than ever, pet specialty and mass-market brands are growing significantly more alike in terms of offerings. In order to differentiate, marketers are turning to trends such as grain-free, ?meat first? and human-grade products.?

    Product development shows no sign of slowing. This June, Nestlé Purina will introduce new products in its Beyond line of natural dog and cat foods. The St. Louis-based company says the four dry dog, four dry cat and 12 wet cat formulas ?will provide pet owners with all the ingredients they want, and none of the ingredients they don?t want, in their pet food.? All of the dry products include real meat, poultry or fish as the No. 1 ingredient, and no corn, wheat, soy, chicken byproduct meal, or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

    Beyond dog formulas include Beyond Simply 9, made with real meat as the top ingredient, along with nine natural ingredients, plus vitamins and minerals; Beyond Superfood Blend, made with real fish as the No. 1 ingredient, plus nutrient-rich superfoods; and grain-free Beyond Adventure, made with alternative protein sources.

    The Beyond dry cat formulas, which contain only 14 ingredients, include Beyond Grain-Free, with real fish as the No. 1 ingredient, and no corn, wheat, soy, chicken byproduct meal, or artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, and Beyond Superfood Blend, with real fish or turkey as the top ingredient, as well as other nutrient-dense ingredients. The new Beyond Natural wet cat formulas come in 12 flavors in Chunk in Gravy and Paté varieties.

    The healthy trend has migrated to the pet treat category, too.

    Cranbury, NJ.-based Loving Pets recently launched a new line of all-natural It?s Purely Natural dog treats in nine varieties, and all-natural, single-ingredient Purrfectly Natural cat treats in beef and chicken flavors. According to Eric Abbey, the company?s president and founder, those items illustrate its focus on healthy pet products, something that began with the 2011 launch of Barksters Krisps, low-fat treats made with all U.S.-sourced natural ingredients at Loving Pets? on-site facility.

    Educate Customers to Boost Sales

    With the market for healthy pet food on a growth path, supermarket retailers stand to benefit by adding at least some selections for shoppers seeking nutritious options for their pets. Abbey advises retailers to showcase natural items in a separate or highlighted area within the pet food and treat section, but cautions that stores should do more than stock those products to boost sales.

    ?Pet owners need a retailer?s help when seeking healthy treat alternatives,? he explains. ?Educating and encouraging your staff to highlight the differences [between products] is key to helping the consumer find the best options available. Help explain why these treats are beneficial for a consumer to purchase, not only for the health-promoting benefits to the pet, but also for the affordability to the consumer. ? Healthy pet treats can remain very affordable.?

    Labels are a good place to start the education process. Abbey suggests encouraging customers to look for high-quality chicken or other specific USDA-inspected lean protein sources such as beef, lamb or liver as the first ingredients; he warns that vague meat sources such as ?meat and bone meal? or ?poultry/poultry meal? contain byproducts. Whole grains are healthier than flours or grain fragments, while brown rice provides more nutrients than rice flour and brewers rice, he adds.

    The new TreatFinder at www.LovingPetsProducts.com lets retailers and consumers enter specific criteria ? ?dog,? ?grain-free? and ?small size,? for example ? to locate a product that fits their individual needs. ?Retailers can utilize platforms like this to explore various ingredient combinations available and be a resource to answer questions and make recommendations,? Abbey notes.

    Whatever their approach, retailers that want to capture a share of the projected $22.62 billion in pet food sales should explore the best ways to stock pet department shelves.

    ?Both food and veterinary care are strongly influenced by consumers? growing interest in improved health care for their pets.?
    ?Bob Vetere, APPA

    ?Pet owners need a retailer?s help when seeking healthy treat alternatives.?
    ?Eric Abbey, Loving Pets

    By Kathleen Furore
    • About Kathleen Furore

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