Manufacturing a Standout House-Brand Product for the Pet Food Aisle

How to collaborate with your manufacturer to develop a high-quality pet food product that’s truly the whole package.

While pet food shopping in a brick-and-mortar store is an individual experience, there are trends that may be unique to your business and your customers. When a pet parent comes into your store, are they expecting to buy food for Fluffy or Fido, or do they need to be drawn in by a glitzy endcap or high-tech display? Once they are scanning the pet food aisle, are they reading what’s on the labels or simply looking for sale price stickers? What’s the ideal bag size for a grab-and-go customer?

When your house-brand product is up against household names made familiar through TV commercials and print ads, its physical appearance becomes vital to its success. To persuade your retail customers to convert from their favorite puppy food to your new offering may require creativity in the packaging department – but there are some technical issues you’ll need your manufacturing partner to help with first.

Product Density

Packaging may seem like a downstream decision when it comes to developing your pet food, but it’s actually something your contract manufacturer should be thinking about as early as the formulation phase. The shape and size of the formula (i.e., round, square, triangle) is an important consideration for your desired bag size as these factors help determine the density of the product. Density is what one cubic foot of product weighs. When the product comes out of the extruder and is exposed to oxygen, it often expands. Think of it as a dessert that comes out of the oven as a fluffy angel food cake instead of a fudgy torte. That’s why thorough manufacturers like American Nutrition conduct a trial production run. If a product is blown through the extruder too quickly, you risk a kibble that is undercooked – which could potentially cause digestive problems for your pet. Rather than automatically opting to crank out 15 tons an hour versus 10, a reliable manufacturer will confirm product quality by examining cook percentage and percent of gelatinization during a trial run. This will ensure that you are achieving a high-quality product that promotes palatability and digestibility while optimizing density and speed of production. The result is a bag that does not appear too full or too empty, and a product that’s both delicious and safe for your ultimate customer.

Bag Size

Once the density of the product has been determined, your manufacturing partner will know how much product should go into each bag depending on its size. Often your manufacturer will provide recommendations on bag size based on the brands you are trying to emulate. For instance, it may be beneficial to place your similarly proportioned but lower-priced 3-lb. bag of kibble next to a competitor’s more expensive 5-pounder. An experienced supplier will have the market insights required to talk through these scenarios and come up with the best packaging dimensions for your offering.

Packaging Materials and Design

When a product is still earning favor with its target customers, first impressions can mean a lot. Most pet parents do not have resealable closure at the top of their priority list, nor do they consciously opt for plastic matte over polywoven bags, but they do have certain expectations based on current market offerings. Working with you, a thorough supplier will examine competing products to help you determine the best bag materials and closures to fit the tastes of your target market and your budget. From there, a full-service supplier like American Nutrition can assist in the graphic design of your package. No matter their involvement, experienced manufacturers will be able to advise on how to stay compliant. From required language to faulty claims, it is important to consider your packaging in the context of the most recent guidelines and regulations.

Conclusion

The value proposition of a private-label program is to offer products whose quality is comparable or superior to that of a national brand, at a lower cost. Retailers are no strangers to P&L statements and product launches, but having an experienced and flexible pet food manufacturer can provide the technical assurance that your final product aligns with your overarching vision. From the size and shape of your kibble to the claims on your packaging, your pet food manufacturer’s expertise matters. Choose a partner who offers the reliability, stability and experience needed to generate a product that can deliver on your brand promise.

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