Despite the recession, the natural and organic pet products industry is holding its own. Sales are growing in every category—from food, supplements and personal care to treats, leashes and litter.
In the animal world, all things natural are thriving. Sales of natural and organic pet food and products grew 6 percent in 2009, according to David Lummis, senior pet market analyst at Rockville, Md., research firm Packaged Facts, bringing natural pet-food sales totals up to $1.5 billion in 2009 and natural pet supplies to $359 million. Sales of all pet products totaled $53 billion in 2009, an increase of 5 percent over 2008.
And that natural cat litter? It accounted for approximately 60 percent of natural and organic non-food pet supply sales in 2009, followed by pet-health products at 30 percent and all other pet supplies at 10 percent, according to Packaged Facts.
Last year was also a record year for new pet products, with 102 natural launches, up from 65 in 2008, Packaged Facts’ research shows.
Particular pets, observant owners
Pet owners are looking for the same reassurances in their pets’ products as they do in their own, according to Lummis. That means no chemicals, antibiotics or growth hormones. It also means high-quality ingredients, animal protein and no grain filler. Packaged Facts reports that product labels containing the terms “chemical free,” “pesticide free,” “organic,” “biodegradable,” “fresh,” “nontoxic” and “pure” did extremely well in 2009.
“Pet owners are definitely becoming more sophisticated,” Lummis says. “They’re looking for high-grade natural products, [along with] transparency, ingredient sourcing and communication of those benefits.”
Chanda Leary-Coutu, marketing communications manager at WellPet, the Tewksbury, Mass.-based manufacturer of Wellness, Old Mother Hubbard, Eagle Pack and Holistic Select pet food brands, says owners are “searching for pet foods that include functional ingredients with therapeutic properties—like omega-3 and omega-7 fatty acids or live micro-organisms.”
Stephanie Volo, president of the 13-year-old natural pet food and supplies manufacturer Planet Dog, based in Portland, Maine, said the growing demand for natural products is due in part to consumers who are “more educated, savvy and aware.”
Service for success
These savvy consumers want manufacturers and retailers to be more service oriented, according to Volo and other small independent retailers like Ron Briggs and his wife, Leigh, who have sold natural pet products at their Crown Hill Pet Supply store in Seattle for 18 years.
“We try to deal with each customer on a personal basis,” listening to what the customer’s pet needs are and what problems the pet might have before recommending a particular food, Briggs says.
Quality over market share
Large mass-market companies such as Procter & Gamble, which bought Natura Pet Products’ line of brands—including Innova, Evo, California Natural, Healthwise, Mother Nature and Karma—in May, are making inroads into the natural and organic pet market. At the same time, however, “there is a migration back to [smaller, natural and organic] pet specialty manufacturers,” Lummis says. “It’s on those companies to be very clear about what makes them unique: service and information.”
That’s the message of large established companies such as WellPet, as well as smaller companies like Planet Dog and Zuke’s Dog Treats in Durango, Colo.
Grant Berry, national sales manager for Zuke’s, sees his company’s niche as offering high-quality ingredients at a medium price, and apparently, it’s working. The company, founded in the mid-1990s, posted growth of 28 percent in 2009. But for 2010, rather than focus on launching new products, Berry says Zuke’s will concentrate on growing its brand and “trying to support our retailers.”
Retailers, in turn, are embracing the higher costs and increased benefits of quality products. Hollus Gessler, owner of Wigglyville pet boutique in Chicago, for example, hates the word premium.
“The reason high-quality natural food is more expensive is because it’s animal protein. Meat-based protein is going to be more expensive,” she says.