Twenty years ago, pet industry leaders were just exploring the idea of specialty stores and many were still skeptical about whether this was really a business model that would work. Would historically price-sensitive customers really spend the kind of money on pet food that specialty stores required to fund their smaller volumes?
One pet specialty retailer was bullish despite all the buzz to the contrary. Their vision was to become not only a large retailer of national brands, but also their own proprietary brand. They had already developed a mainstream proprietary pet food in 2000 and now, a decade later, were ready to launch their own meat-first, super premium brand.
The problem? Few pet food manufacturers were doing meat-first production at the time. Luckily, American Nutrition was well-known for their stellar reputation producing specialty foods, including meat-first formulas, and they already had a good relationship with the company as the manufacturer of their initial food formulas. The nutritional expertise offered by American Nutrition’s R&D department didn’t hurt either.
Managing Unexpected Pet Food Success
No one really knew how the market would respond to a proprietary super premium store brand. The new brand would be going up against some of the biggest names in national brand premium pet food that were already selling at significant volumes in their stores, so the initial plan was modest and the projections small. American Nutrition developed a number of dog and cat food formulas, designed the individual bags, and rolled out production within four months of finalizing project concept
The new brand was so successful, it exceeded all expectations. Significantly.
“They had projected some very low numbers, so we were all unprepared to meet the demand they actually experienced,” recalled Debbie Delapp, business manager at American Nutrition. “That’s when we really stepped up.”
American Nutrition’s logistics department leapt into action, working with the customer to understand future demand based on statistical forecasted growth related to the brand. They developed their own forecasting and then used that data to plan ingredient and package deliveries, production and shipping.
If American Nutrition hadn’t responded so well to the initial forecast issues, the whole brand might have dissolved before it even started. Instead, they collaborated with the customer on an out-of-the-box solution to what was a critical problem.
Sustainable Growth and an Ongoing Partnership
Just one and a half years after the initial product launch, the super-premium brand was already the fastest growing brand in the retailer’s stores and American Nutrition was asked to develop additional formulas. Within five years of launch, American Nutrition was producing more than 60 SKUs under this super-premium brand and more than 200 SKUs for the company overall.
“Our business with this customer more than doubled between 2010 and 2014,” DeLapp said. “But, back then, we had no idea what the brand was going to become. We were just doing what was right for our client and their customers.”
American Nutrition has been a manufacturer of choice for this pet specialty retailer for more than 20 years, producing a wide variety of biscuits, and dry kibble for both dogs and cats. And those 20 years have included a lot of growth and change–from redesigns that impact all packages to creating sub-brands within brands that focus on the latest market trends like high-protein or grain-free formulas.
American Nutrition’s packaging engineer has optimized the bags to fit allocated shelve space and withstand the rigors of shipping and handling. Even going so far as to follow a truck from beginning to end so they could be there when the doors were opened to see how the product arrived. And the design team at American Nutrition has been called upon to assist with large brand extensions when the company’s internal bandwidth was stretched too thin.
This retailer has also grown in ways no one imagined. But throughout all the changes, one thing has remained consistent and that’s the partnership with American Nutrition.
“We always do our best to ease whatever pain our customers are experiencing and adapt to their wants and needs,” DeLapp said. “Our goal isn’t just to deliver high-quality pet food, it’s to get clients’ products launched as successfully as possible and that requires long-term partnerships based on mutual trust. Their success is our success.”