Building a compelling dog food and treats inventory requires pet

specialty retailers to be on top of what’s important to pet owners in order toget these customers through their doors.

It’s always been important that pet specialty retailers create a vibrantproduct mix—one where products practically fly out the door rather than lollabout on the shelves unable to earn their keep. During these pandemic times,it’s even more essential to have an inventory that works for—rather thanagainst—store profitability. As such, staying on top of trends needs to be atthe top of any retailer’s to-do list.

Consider the dog food and treats category, which tends to serve as the primarydraw for bringing pet owners into stores. Once through the doors, customerstypically shop other categories and tack on some impulse purchases.Consequently, offering the foods and treats that are aligned with what isimportant to consumers, and being knowledgeable about the ins and outs of petnutrition, can bring a store-wide benefit.

So, what are dog owners looking for when it comes to what they feed theirpets? In general, the big three elements include minimal-ingredient diets,premium quality, and a sustainable component to ensure their purchase ishelping the Earth, not harming it.

Deeper in Trends

One trend in play for a while now, and becoming more entrenched, is thewillingness to splurge more on pet food that’s high-quality. Where pet ownerswere once somewhat price sensitive, this has changed as recognition about thepositive impact that higher-quality food and treats have on their pet’s healthand well being.

Tyler Atkins, chief sales and marketing officer for SquarePet , agreesthere has been a strong movement toward premium options that provide solutionsto issues their pets may be experiencing, as well as simplifying their pets’diets in the same way they’re eating cleaner in their own.

This parlays into another trend—sustainability, which has become a significantdriver behind purchasing decisions, explains Heather Hickey, vice president ofsales for ZIWI USA, Inc. This desire, like many others in the petindustry, stemmed from the traction sustainability has gained in the humanarena. As such, Hickey says consumers are gravitating toward premium productsthat are formulated to provide a nutritional and functional boost for thepet’s diet.

Along with functional ingredients, premium quality and sustainability—thelatter of which is particularly important to Millennial and Gen Z pet owners,notes Lindsay Tracy, vice president of business development for Redbarn PetProducts —gentle processing and the inclusion of whole grains are otherfactors inspiring purchasing decisions.

“The desire for wholesome, natural and clean-label options remains strong,”says Tracy. “We think pet wellness will continue to be a huge focus,particularly with dental health, anxiety support and joint, skin and hearthealth.”

Perhaps one of the newest trends is what David Sanborn, general manager forFLAVORS Food Toppers , calls “healthy convenience.” This is particularlyevident in the U.S., with the fast-food chains and the proliferation of home-delivery companies, he says.

“The same ideas and tactics can be seen in dog and cat foods, where premium-quality dry kibbles, refrigerated food and prepared meals are growing inpopularity and have the benefits of being healthier alternatives to the basickibbles from the past, while still being very convenient to a pet owner,”explains Sanborn.

Behind the Trends

While stocking these trends is one thing, understanding the factors behindthem is another. Sanborn credits the switch to people thinking of their petsas children rather than just pets as one of the biggest drivers behind theirpurchasing decisions. This change of perspective has made pet owners willingto spend more money and time on them, he explains.

“This additional spending on pets is also directly related to owners choosinghealthier options for their pets,” Sanborn continues. “This healthier approachcontributes to pets living longer, which in turn leads us to new healthcareconsiderations for our aging pets. This whole new paradigm shift leads toadditional spending across the board.”

Making it less expensive to spend more is the trend toward owning smallerdogs, says Hickey, allowing pet owners to invest in better nutrition. Anotherconcern is obesity, much of which can be attributed to diet. Pet owners havebecome increasingly aware that reducing unnecessary carbohydrates can helpmaintain a healthy weight.

Because pet owners think of their furry pals as family members, they’requicker to respond to health issues or try to proactively ward them offaltogether, says Atkins. At the same time, consumers become quiteknowledgeable about nutrition and what they want their pet’s foods and treatsto contain. Safety and confidence around their purchases is also a top factorin purchasing, he adds.

“Pet owners seek information that addresses features uniquely concerning tothem as individuals,” Atkins explains. “These concerns can be anything as wideas manufactur-ing process, ingredient sourcing [and] ethical considerations oras narrow as seeking specific micronutrient levels within a diet. If all theseconcerns are satisfied, then a pet parent feel a sense of safety around thedies and the brand.”

Going Deeper

Diving deeper into what pet owners truly want from manufacturers and retailersalike will aid in the creation of dynamic inventories and sales. Putting itsimply, pet owners are seeking trust—meaning that the diet is what is says itis, does what it says it will do and that the retailer has made a “good faith”recommendation, explains Atkins.

“Pet specialty retailers who politely engage and act as a knowledgeableresource for pet parents provide a tremendous sense of reassurance,” he says.“Knowledge of products and pet nutrition builds trust and furtherrecommendations. Offering the expertise and customer service that cannot befound with online resources are exceptionally valuable tools.”

Pet owners want honesty and transparency from manufacturers, on the packagingand on the ingredients list, adds Hickey. Consumers want to interact with aninformed staff that can provide a good shopping experience along with insightsabout their diet options. (Pet owners are also looking for more optionsoutside of stores, such as curbside pickup and home delivery, she notes).

If manufacturers want to form long-lasting relationships with pet owners,trust is essential, says Tracy. To forge this connection, manufacturers mustbe completely transparent. And, just as pet specialty retailers need toprovide exceptional customer service, so do manufacturers, who should be ableand willing to address customer’s questions about specific ingredients, shesays.

Pet retailers must also provide explicit, easy-to-read messaging about thebenefits of the foods and treats they carry, says Sanborn, which can be madereadily available through signage. Interacting directly with customers is alsoa must, as is asking questions to help narrow down the options and direct themto the best solutions. Questions should be open-ended and “exploratory,” headvises, such as inquiring why they came into the store, how their pet isdoing and what issues they may be looking to resolve.

“Today’s specialty pet retailers are more pet solution providers, as they nowhave to help solve a pet owner’s problems as opposed to just pointing them toan aisle,” Sanborn says. “They always need to be up on the latest problemsbecause pet owners will always be facing challenges in caring for their pets.”

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