For many dog owners, finding the best food for their furry friends requires research, as the market is filled with countless options.
“Pet parents use their own human food lens on what they want to feed their pet,” said Ryan Wilson, vice president of marketing for Halo Pets, a brand of Better Choice Co. in Tampa, Fla. “They see their pets as their children, and they want to feed them the best, highest-quality foods available.”
Today, more dog owners seek to add variety to their pets’ diets, and for many, wet foods check off the right boxes.
“The pandemic exacerbated the humanization trend by strengthening the bond between humans and pets, as more people acquired dogs and spent lengthy periods at home with their furry companions during the lockdown,” said Erica Vogt, senior marketing manager for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, which manufactures Tiki Dog food. “Today’s pet parents [are] seeking to provide greater variety, more tasty indulgences and enhanced nutrition by switching to a wet diet.”
Opting for wet food allows pet owners to provide their dogs with a nutritional experience that a solely dry kibble diet lacks. Wet dog food contains a higher moisture content than dry, which increases pets’ hydration, according to industry insiders.
Awareness about the benefits of wet diets is growing, insiders noted, and while not all dog owners are making the switch full time, they are experimenting more.
“Another development that has contributed to the growth of wet dog food sales is the ‘premiumization’ of dry dog food,” Vogt said. “More pet parents who feed their dogs dry diets are using wet food as a mix-in, combining it with kibble to increase palatability, and add nutrients and variety.”
Value also continues to be a factor in the types of diets dog owners select, said Adam Martodam, marketing director for NutriSource Pet Foods, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands.
“Consumers in the independent [marketplace] continue to look for the best quality at a reasonable price,” Martodam said. “Consumers are attracted to cans that call out to them with clever marketing, catchy names, unique ingredients and textures.”
In addition, Martodam said dog owners consider “reliable supply” when purchasing pet foods.
“Consumers want to know that the brand they feed will be in stock next time they go shopping,” he said. “When multiple companies have supply issues, consumers flood over [to] other brands in stock, which then puts a strain on their supply.”
NutriSource’s production facilities are located in Minnesota—an advantage that Martodam said adds value for customers.
On the Market
As with their own diets, pet owners tend to be tuned to health and nutrition when choosing food for their dogs.
“Today’s more knowledgeable consumers want a natural, healthy diet that is well balanced and meets their pet’s specific nutritional needs,” said Erica Vogt, senior marketing manager for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, which manufactures Tiki Dog food. “Many pet parents are seeking natural-prey-based diets, high in animal protein and other ingredients that dogs would naturally consume in the wild. They also like to see ‘real’ recognizable ingredients when they open the can.”
Tiki Dog focuses on natural-prey-inspired diets rich in protein from high-quality animal sources like chicken, beef, lamb, duck, venison and turkey, along with other ingredients, Vogt said.
“Each ingredient is thoughtfully selected to serve a specific nutritional purpose,” she added. “All of our recipes are based on real, natural ingredients, many of which are readily identifiable such as whole shrimp, shredded chicken, flaked fish, snow peas, cabbage and diced carrots.”
Last March, Halo Pets launched its line of Halo Elevate super-premium wet dog food, which can be fed as a complete meal, snack or meal topper.
“Pet parents are looking for natural pet foods that deliver nutritional benefits to the pet, [and] we built our Halo Elevate lineup of dry and wet foods to do [that],” said Ryan Wilson, vice president of marketing for Halo Pets, a brand of Better Choice Co. in Tampa, Fla. “We formulated these recipes with our veterinarian and nutrition experts to ensure that our recipes deliver health benefits to the pet.”
Halo Elevate products are available in three forms. The Homestyle Bone-In Stew comes in three recipes and is made with a safe-to-eat bone-in chicken drumette, along with nutrient-rich ingredients like pumpkin, kale and carrots, Wilson said.
The Kettle-Cooked Chunky Stews come in four recipes and are made with large chunks of chicken, beef and salmon. These recipes also feature sweet potatoes, brown rice and green beans.
The Smoky BBQ Stews come in three recipes: shredded chicken, glazed chicken, and braised duck and beef cooked in a smoky BBQ sauce.
NutriSource Pet Foods, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands, has expanded its options in the category, said marketing director Adam Martodam.
“Over the past year-plus, it became increasingly important for us to diversify our wet food offerings,” Martodam said. “It resulted in the launch of NutriSource PureVita Tetra Pak stews and entrees. These protein-heavy, low-carb diets for pets feature meat-rich limited-ingredient recipes.”
Each stew and entree is nutritionally supported with taurine for heart health and includes NutriSource’s proprietary Good 4 Life System to support digestion, gut health, nutrient utilization and more, Martodam said.
“We are also working on the relaunch of the NutriSource Select line of canned dog food to bring back a number of wet diets many of our consumers loved,” he said. “[We’ll] offer a variety of proteins and carbohydrates aligning with our kibble diets.”
Appealing to Pets & People
When creating pet food products, it is vital to appeal to both the palate of the dog as well as the preferences of the human. Therefore, manufacturers are focusing on developing wet diets made with ingredients that people can understand, according to industry insiders.
“Manufacturers have addressed the humanization trend by creating innovative wet food products,” said Erica Vogt, senior marketing manager for St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands, which manufactures Tiki Dog food. “[The foods are] made with natural and recognizable ingredients, using science-based nutritional formulations, and offer gourmet-style recipes similar to those humans might look for in their own diets.”
The Tiki Dog Taste of the World line has been inspired by international human cuisines from countries throughout Europe and Asia, Vogt added.
“All the recipes are made with delicious, whole [and] recognizable ingredients,” Vogt said. “They are formulated to indulge canine gourmets with global taste sensations.”
Pet owners are looking for foods made with functional ingredients, such as green-lipped mussels for hip and joint support, and mushrooms for immune health, said Tabitha McKinney, senior category manager of dog and cat food at Feeders Pet Supply and Chow Hound Pet Supplies, a retail chain with locations in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.
“In terms of ingredients, most pet parents are looking for several proteins within a brand to be able to round out their pet’s plate,” McKinney said. “Listening to consumers is an essential way for brands to make products that match consumers’ desires.”
Manufacturers often rely on consumer feedback in the research and development phase of product innovation.
“We listen very closely to our pet parents and our employees,” said Ryan Wilson, vice president of marketing for Halo Pets, a brand of Better Choice Co. in Tampa, Fla. “We also keep a close pulse on the pet and human food industries to understand top food trends.”
Packaging is another critical aspect of product development, particularly in the wet food category.
“Pet parents are still looking for diversity in not only texture but ingredients, and in the vehicle the food is contained in,” McKinney said. “We have seen a large shift in pet parents who are seeking out pouches—the beauty of most pouch products is that it can be fed all in one sitting. There’s no need to fuss with can toppers and the refrigerator.”