Consumers are more aware of the connection between whole foods and health in their own diets, and, as such, they are choosing frozen raw foods for their dogs.
By Lizett Bond
Pet owners are eager to ensure the diet consumed by their dogs will contribute to a long and healthy life. As consumers look to more “natural” or “ancestral” mealtime selections, frozen raw foods are gaining in popularity.
More than ever before, pet owners realize that ingredient quality is paramount, said Kyle Frautnick, marketing director for Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif.
Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn., agreed, noting a variety of reasons for the uptick in consumer demand for frozen raw options, including the personal connection between whole foods and health.
“Customers are reading and comparing labels,” Frautnick said. “It’s imperative to offer a better source of nutrition, as an alarming number of our beloved animals are being diagnosed with diet-related disease.”
Diseases such as cancer, diabetes, allergies and chronic weight gain have affected a large percentage of the pet population, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. As a result, veterinarians are recommending all-natural, limited-ingredient dietary alternatives to manage these conditions.
“Another major factor in the growth of raw comes down to basic word-of-mouth,” Schubert said. “One pet owner notices that the pet of a neighbor or friend just looks better, has lost weight, has more energy or doesn’t seem to be suffering from a condition that has plagued them for years.”
Improved skin and coat, reduced stool quantity and odor, superior dental hygiene, and improved energy, vitality, and fitness are just some of the benefits offered with a complete and balanced raw frozen diet, according to Frautnick.
The Big Bad Woof is a well-known proponent of raw feeding in the Washington, D.C., area, and co-owner Julie Paez said that often, customers walking in are predisposed to a raw diet and seeking a wider variety of these foods for their dogs.
“We also have customers that have tried other diets in an attempt to clear issues with their dog, including kibble, canned and prescription products,” she said. “After running the gamut, they’ll come to us, and we’ll suggest raw food, which knocks out most of the problems that they have been struggling with.
“Raw food is so clean,” Paez said. “It’s not processed; all of the nutrients are available immediately. With cooked kibble, half of the good stuff in the meat is lost.”
However, consumer interest in frozen raw dog food can also be regional, and in more rural areas, where pet owners might own multiple dogs, including strays that have been taken in, a raw diet could be prohibitive to feed in terms of cost.
“At Woof Gang Bakery, we recognize that a raw diet is not ideal for every customer, so it is important that our owners get to know their customers when selecting the best pet diet,” said Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for the chain, which is headquartered in Orlando, Fla.
Bill Trufant, co-owner of B&B Pet Stop in Mobile, Ala., noted a lack of demand for frozen raw foods in his store.
“It’s a different market here in Mobile,” he said. “We don’t sell frozen raw in our store—there just isn’t a call for it.”
Expanding Raw Options
In answer to consumer demand for whole, species-appropriate nutrition, manufacturers are offering a broader range of frozen raw selections.
The anticipated summer rollout of the Lamb Entrée from Raw Bistro Pet Fare will feature 100 percent grass-fed lamb sourced from Midwest family farms.
“We’re in the process of fine-tuning the formula with renowned canine nutritionist Steve Brown,” said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn. “Because the nutritional profile of every meat is different, we don’t use a standard premix in any of our frozen entrées and formulate custom premixes calibrated to each meat.”
Introduced last summer, Instinct Raw Boost Mixers provide an easy way for pet owners to introduce the nutrition of raw to their pet’s meal by topping kibble with frozen raw bites, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing for Instinct Pet Food, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.
The two best-selling recipes in the Stella & Chewy’s frozen raw Dinner Patties for Dogs line, Stella’s Super Beef and Chewy’s Chicken, are now available in a 12-pound value pack, said Lee Hessenthaler, director of marketing for the Oak Creek, Wis., company.
The new value pack uses the same ingredients as the 6-pound packages and features 95 percent meat, organs and ground bone, Hessenthaler said.
Each pack includes 24 8-ounce patties, offering an option to pet owners with large-breed dogs or multidog households.
Providing a solution to those seeking nontraditional proteins for their dogs, the Wild Boar recipe recently joined the Stella & Chewy’s lineup of frozen raw exotic proteins. The recipe is available in both 6-pound Dinner Patties and 4-pound Dinner Morsels, Hessenthaler said.
Sifting through available dog food options is often overwhelming to pet owners, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
“They may hear or read something that piques their interest but need knowledgeable, informed help in the decision-making process,” she said. “That assistance typically falls to the retailer, who has day-to-day contact with the consumer.”
A sales team able to discuss the features and benefits of a raw product, and distinguish between the various brands and choices, will serve to build customer trust and loyalty, Schubert added.
“When it comes to raw diets, education is key,” said Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for Woof Gang Bakery, a chain with headquarters in Orlando, Fla. “All of our franchise owners are able to discuss the nutritional benefits of raw food, and describe how it is safely packed and handled in the high-pressure pasteurization process.”
Education and expertise are fundamental in addressing misconceptions regarding feeding frozen raw.
“Not everybody is ready to do raw food; there’s a lot of misunderstanding and resistance,” said Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C. “Consumers fear salmonella, and I’ve even heard, ‘It’s going to turn my dog into a wild animal, and he’ll eat the cat.’ However, acceptance can just be a matter of a pet owner reaching a point where all avenues have been exhausted and they are now open to trying raw.”
For these reasons, a personal understanding of feeding a frozen raw diet can help in assisting consumers with dietary selections, Paez said.
“Approximately 60 percent of staffers at The Big Bad Woof feed frozen raw to their own pets, so they understand it,” she said.
To forge a mastery of the pros and cons of raw versus processed diets, staffers participate in training programs provided by various raw food manufacturers.
“This type of instruction is critical to ensuring our staff is getting that block of knowledge and information,” said Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof. “Not just through the manufacturer, but also through our staff meetings.”
Consumers are paying attention to ingredients and, in turn, are looking for retailers and associates who can speak to what’s important to them, said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing for Instinct Pet Food, a brand of St. Louis-based Nature’s Variety.
“Asking the right questions and offering the right information is important when guiding pet parents to frozen raw,” she said.
The Raw Story
In marketing and merchandising frozen raw dog food, retailers can endeavor to tell a story by building the category and presenting multiple brands that will speak to the consumer in a clear, direct manner, said Kyle Frautnick, marketing director for Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif.
“Many retailers choose to merchandise products in an entire made in the USA section,” Frautnick said. “This helps the customer find the products they are looking for.”
Shopping local is high on the agenda for shoppers at The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., said owner Cindra Conison. For this reason, Vermont Raw Pet Food, which offers ground chubs of chicken and turkey, has a loyal following.
“And, of course, made in the USA is essential here,” she said.
Embracing the category also contributes to sales success.
“Our most successful retailers practice what they preach,” said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn. “Retailers are on the front line, and if they are familiar with the product and feeding raw at home, they can speak knowledgeably about how to thaw it in the fridge, how easy it is to portion and how their own dogs respond. That’s what gets customers intrigued and buying.”
Discussing mealtime options is another strategy for encouraging customers to try frozen raw dog food, Magnuson said. For example, suggesting frozen raw as a topper or for one meal per day could be a viable alternative for those who don’t want to go all in feeding raw.
Because frozen products cannot be placed on an endcap or floor display, retailers can attract customer attention with in-store signage, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
Further, an upgrade from older, freestanding freezers to glass-front units will allow customers to easily browse and quickly find the products they are seeking.
“The newer freezers not only offer increased storage capacity, but tell the customer the store is serious about its commitment to raw diets and healthful pet foods,” Schubert said.
As of 2016, Woof Gang Bakery ensures that all new locations receive glass-front freezers to display raw products.
“This has been an integral step to opening a dialogue about frozen raw foods with our customers,” said Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate buyer for the Orlando, Fla.-based chain.
Evolving Dietary Trends
As the whole-food movement enters mealtime mainstream, consumers are renouncing processed and refined selections in favor of organic, grass-fed and free-range alternatives, and revisiting the sustenance of past generations, said Justin Magnuson, vice president of sales and marketing for Raw Bistro Pet Fare in Cannon Falls, Minn.
“Ancestral, paleo, Zone—all of these diets influence how we, as people, eat,” Magnuson said. “So it is only natural that we start to question the lifeless, kibble mono-diet we’ve been scooping into our pets’ dishes. Our dogs deserve 100 percent grass-fed, free-range and organic, too.”
Pet owners electing for an ancestral or paleo diet for themselves are more in tune with what constitutes proper nutrition for their pets, said Kyle Frautnick, marketing director for Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif. Further, as these consumers continue to research their own nourishment, they often will research advantageous food options for their pets.
“An ingredient panel offering whole food ingredients and no synthetics speaks to these customers,” Frautnick said.
“The ancestral diet movement is the cornerstone of raw diets, and with the return to a more basic diet, we’re going to see a surge in the popularity of raw feeding,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
“After all, it doesn’t get more natural than feeding our dogs all of the essentials—meat, bone, organs—without all of the things they don’t need—grains, fillers, low-grade meal, artificial preservatives and flavorings,” she said.
Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof in Washington, D.C., noted an escalating call for frozen raw dog foods.
“We have 13 freezer doors and are realizing it’s still not enough,” she said. “We are trying to figure out how to add more doors.”
“Consumers today are more aware than ever before of what they are feeding their pets,” said Shelby Wisniewski, director of integrated marketing for Instinct Pet Food, a brand of Nature’s Variety in St. Louis. “They are looking for minimally processed foods, and raw offers that, as well as an inherently pure ingredient listing.”