As “green,” natural, organic or just plain healthy consumers move to the top of the shopping food chain, they are taking their pets along for the ride.
Retailers should know, no matter how easygoing the pet, their tastes tend to be as fickle as the owner, sources told SN.
While the recent pet food recall had some consumers shying away from the pet food aisle to make their own food, others were switching to natural and organic food products. Nonfood products, including green alternatives, were popular choices before and after the recall, according to Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association in Greenwich, Conn. Products like beds made from recycled materials, composting systems for pet waste, natural stain and odor removers and leashes and collars made of organic materials have all been gaining ground, according to the association's website. “People are still in love with their pets and rewarding them accordingly,” he said.
Last year Yoke's Market, a 12-store chain based in Spokane, Wash., planned to test a destination pet care section that would emphasize education. But plans have changed.
Rather than just remerchandise the pet section, the company decided to add a natural product store-within-a-store that will include pet products, according to Russ Martin, category manager for Yoke's.
“As with so much in the pet industry, green is another trend that is mirroring the human marketplace,” said Vetere.
The natural pet products reflect both interest from consumers and Yoke's desire to differentiate from “conventional” supermarket chains, Martin said.
“We wanted natural and organic as a bigger part of our mix, and it made no sense to do pet separately, so we'll do it as a part of the reconfiguration,” Martin said of the Yoke's store in Market Mead, Wash., where construction will begin this fall.
Instead of waiting until fall to start carrying pet products that health-and-wellness-conscious owners would be proud of, Yoke's began offering three new lines of natural and organic pet food and products in all of its stores just over a month ago.
“One of the lines, Castor & Pollux Pet Works [Clackamas, Ore.], has all-natural collars, leashes, toys and shampoos with no chemicals or dyes,” Martin said. The line also includes vitamins and supplements for dogs and cats.
Although it may be too early to reap sales results for the entire chain, Yoke's Sandpoint, Idaho, store has had to reorder the line weekly to replenish its shelves. “That is a big natural and organic store, and the natural pet products have been a huge success,” he said.
One of the reasons green products do so well in that particular store is that its employees have been working to educate customers on the products. “There is an education process in that store that comes with telling people what each product is about and creating a demand for it,” Martin said.
Rob Keane, spokesman for Stop & Shop, agrees. The Quincy, Mass.-based chain, which began carrying natural pet food and supplies about two years ago, also runs a “Did You Know?” pet column in its weekly circular.
The goal is to “grab the consumer's attention and educate them with little tidbits of information,” he said. Consumers have responded positively to both the expanded natural products offering and the added information, he said. “They are grateful for any advice we can give them.”
Lees Market, a one-store operation in Westport, Mass., has taken healthy-pet education a step further. About four years ago the supermarket began using nutritional information from Weight Watchers' website, www.weightwatchers.com, to create shelf labels for products throughout the store, including pet food.
The labels calculate the calorie content, fiber content and fat content for the selected brands.
Customers are very happy with it, owner Al Lees told SN. Although Lees doesn't use educational merchandising for its pet toys and accessories, “We use some organic and healthy lines of products for pets that include shampoos and other grooming products,” Lees said.
The majority of Lees' customers still gravitate to the “known brands,” he said. But he carries the natural products to tailor the section to those customers who are interested in green products for themselves, and their pets by extension.
“With the same individual making purchases for both pets and humans, you would expect the crossover,” Vetere said. Even for his own dog, a golden retriever, Vetere knows that nothing more than a tennis ball is needed to keep his pup happily playing, but, “Buying him something more special makes me feel better and makes him happy for the attention. It's an emotional win-win.”
Manufacturers are responding to this growing demand by supplying a larger number of quality green products, Vetere added.
For example KicX Nutrition, a human health and wellness products manufacturer based in Guelph, Ontario, decided to broaden its business into the pet category in 2005, according to founder Doug Daymond. “We recognized we could deliver the same type of natural, healthy, good-for-you functional products to benefit the pet,” he said of the company's NuHemp line. NuHemp includes hemp-plant-based Omega sauces, treats and powders, as well as topical coat and skin care for pets.
“We conducted extensive research in the domestic pet/animal categories, and identified a vast opportunity to develop and introduce a premium line of products that focused on the many nutritional and therapeutic benefits of the commercial hemp plant,” he said. For now, the products are only found at natural health food retailers, he added.
While natural pet products are currently a growing trend, Vetere thinks it will follow the performance of green products in the human marketplace, “so watch that trend,” he said. “Merchandisers should pay attention to their current customer base. If they cater to a segment that will find green products desirable, carrying the pet version of those products should be successful.”
As for his natural-leaning customers, Lees said, “If they are inclined to and can afford to treat themselves well, they will do the same for their pets.”
“Even if they themselves have not started to implement a healthier lifestyle, pet owners feel a sense of responsibility to provide for their pets. This shift in consumers wanting to live an increasingly healthy and active lifestyle has them looking for healthier pet products,” Daymond said.