Formula for Success: Considerations in Developing a Private Label Pet Food Program

Where are your customers looking first: the ingredient list or the price tag? Learn how to strike the right balance in your house-brand pet food.

Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see honor student bumper stickers beside those showing love for Fido and Fluffy – or even a “granddog” or “grandkitty.” This cultural shift in the humanization of pets means that pet owners consider themselves “pet parents” and, as such, expect the very best for their four-legged family members. While this has driven more discriminating customers to pet specialty stores and independent boutiques, it has also raised expectations in supermarket and drug store pet food aisles. What was once a few shelves of value-priced dog and cat food products has undergone what experts call “mass premiumization,” resulting in a growing array of options catered toward those with elevated tastes and budgets.

In this blog, we’ll give those who are considering a private label pet food program an overview of the current marketplace and a framework for determining how your product can meet the needs of today’s educated pet food consumer.

The Four Tiers of Pet Food

As you enter the arena of kibble and chow, it’s important to consider where your product or product line will fit into the four tiers that make up the pet food marketplace.

  • Value: Products in this category of pet food appeal to customers who are focused on price. These pet parents are less likely to examine the ingredient list, which likely contains meat byproduct and corn or wheat. While palatability and digestibility are not at the top of the value-tier shopper’s priority list, this segment is designed for consumers who want to feed their pets safe food at a reasonable cost.
  • Mainstream: Mainstream pet foods give equal weight to digestibility, palatability and price. These products are typically found in a supermarket or drug store versus specialty stores like PetSmart or Petco. Byproduct meals or pure meals are paired with higher-quality grains to create a formulation that is attractive to both pet palettes and consumer pocketbooks.
  • Premium: An increasingly popular option, premium pet food products offer higher-quality ingredients to discerning customers who value palatability and digestibility over price. On the back of the bag, you’ll find real-meat or meat meals as the top ingredients with no byproducts. These formulations are often grain-free or include higher quality grains. Savvy pet parents will be pleased to see that many premium products are free of dyes and feature only natural preservatives.
  • Super Premium: The super premium tier is the land of opportunity for retailers looking to capitalize on pet food trends. Consumers in this segment are looking for the highest-quality ingredients: real meats, grain-free formulas and maybe even a taste of the exotic. (Think alligator, lamb or duck.) These pet parents want the “total package” and may be drawn to a unique logo or bag design before glancing at the price tag.

Next Steps

With this product hierarchy in mind, you have a clearer lens through which to examine your pet food sales opportunities. Which products are most successful at your store, and for your pet parents? Do they fall into one tier or many? Think about your brand. Is your average customer price-driven? How likely are they to examine the ingredient list and package design?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you’ll know what to prioritize in your pet food program. A qualified pet food manufacturer will have some house formulas that may fit your needs or will be able to work with you to develop a custom formulation. Keep in mind that custom formulations often mean higher minimum order quantities and cost. So, do your due diligence. Work with a manufacturing partner who can not only help you choose the right types of products but also develop safe, high-quality pet food to set you apart from your competitors. More on this in our next blog.

–Steve Mills, SVP of customer brands and co-manufacturing, American Nutrition