Pet food toppings are a growing segment, but why? And how should pet food manufacturers and retailers respond?
Adding something on top
Around my house, putting the right amount of toppings on my ice cream is a craft that I happily pursue. Many find the right condiment is critical for flavouring meat and vegetables. Many put crunchy granola in their yoghurt. Blending of ingredients is a normal event in human food planning because we balance our own food ingredients for eye appeal and taste – hopefully to build a well-balanced nutrition plan for ourselves. But pet foods are different.
Pet foods are formulated to be nutritionally balanced and properly fortified. So what is the rationale for adding something on top or mixing something into a pet food? Is this about ‘dressing’ up a food for eye appeal and taste or does it have some other purpose?
Why the interest?
Consumers have concerns whether their own food regime is really complete as they look at their own choices of ingredients and the processing employed.
Should I eat more raw products or less processed food? That same fear carries through to pet foods. Adding the ‘missing’ nutritional component gives some comfort that the foods are once again complete. Others top or mix to help improve taste and flavour when their pet is not eating or drinking well.
The idea of adding something that cannot be put into a dry or canned food has spawned the growth of pet food supplements. Perhaps these are nutrients and nutraceuticals that would be destroyed by dry or wet food processing.
In reviewing a major pet product sales site, over
190 toppers and mixers were being sold. Some 60% were dog and 40% were cat, 40% were dry and
60% were wet/moist. They were designed to be used on dry, canned and soft-moist foods. Pricing ranged dramatically but, compared to foods and even treats, they are much more expensive. The types of products were also highly variable, including unique kibbles, meat shreds, powders, broths and soups, gravies and sauces. Packaging is equally diverse.
Finding their place on the shelf
The positioning in retail stores is always up for debate. Where do these belong? Do they belong in the treat aisle or in the food aisle? An argument could be made to include these products in the supplement aisle. Selling these products online is a somewhat easier process, as they are not lost high up on a shelf.
It would seem that these products ‘boost’ three main purposes:
- Improving taste or consumption
The claim most often found is for flavour enhancement or for boosting consumption. That makes a lot of sense as pets often stop drinking or do not drink well in some health situations. Adding water or other liquid on top of the food does encourage better consumption.
- Supporting health
Many products make claims of nutritional improvement by supplementing for immunity, digestive health, joint care or skin and coat. The marketing approach suggests that there are nutritional components destroyed in processing so a ‘raw’ topper is suggested. With consumers running to false internet experts more and more, the message is that the complete and balanced pet foods are missing something. Supplementation with any topper brings nutrition to the overall food regime. Without careful oversight, the daily food regime will no longer be complete and balanced, which could lead to future health issues, including obesity.
- Completing the food regime
Adding a mixer or topper to ensure ‘completeness’ can help to top up consumer confidence that a food is truly complete and balanced or 100% nutritious. It completes the need for variety or supplies the ‘fun’ to the consumer not seen in the eating of basic kibbles.
A growing choice
Toppers take the consumer into decision-making when it comes to their pet’s food. Or, they can trust that their complete and balanced food is truly all their pet needs. Toppers can be another ‘treat’ decision adding to the bonding of the pet owner to their pet. Either way, toppers or mixers will continue to grow.
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