Brick and Mortar is the Next Frontier for DTC Pet Food Brands | News
Independent pet retailers are often recognized in their communities as experts in pet products, and now well-established direct-to-consumer (DTC) pet food brands are discovering how partnering with independent pet retailers can increase brand awareness, expand their market base and drive sales.
DTC pet food market is expected to reach $8.16 billion by 2028, according to Direct-to-consumer pet food market – Global forecast to 2028, a report published by market research firm Meticulous Research. Growing adoption of digital channels, demand for nutritious pet food, millennial pet owners, and consumers’ willingness to pay extra for pet products are supporting the growth of the DTC pet food market, according to the report.
“It’s an omnichannel world,” said Renaldo Webb, founder of New York-based PetPlate, which launched in 2016 as a strictly DTC fresh pet food company.
Still, in 2020, Webb began to see opportunities to expand its DTC brand into brick-and-mortar retail.
“Pet Supplies Plus was one of the first to contact PetPlate with an interest in exploring the fresh food category. We started having conversations with Pet Supplies Plus in the third or fourth quarter of 2020, and we were ready to leaving in July 2021,” Webb said. “Combining a physical presence with our digital presence has really created an interesting synergy where we can also use our digital expertise to drive awareness for our retail partners. The independent pet chain is enthusiastic about partners who are open, honest, and who seek to truly partner and collaborate on both of their businesses.
RELATED: Pet Supplies Plus Becomes First Physical Store to Carry PetPlate
Statistics showed Terri Rockovich, CEO of Jinx, a Los Angeles-based fresh pet food company, that specialty store customer profiles were aligned with the market of millennial pet owners that Jinx dessert. After partnering with select retailers, she realized how powerful and mutually beneficial these partnerships can be.
“Retail gives us the presence to reach beyond our core demographics. We can present ourselves in the most compelling way, whether it’s on the shelves or through in-store signage, or through any kind of customer marketing,” she said.
After the success of its first foray into retail, Jinx, who Rockovich described as channel independent, reversed its business forecast.
“For 2022, approximately 60% of our business will be through retail, which we call a wholesale program,” Rockovich said. “[Previously]the mix was about 70-30 in favor of direct-to-consumer.
“Indies have very high standards for the brands they put on their shelves,” Rockovich added. “It serves as a first filter. And that’s certainly market validation.
The Independent Advantage
Independent retailers’ reputations are built on delivering high-quality products, so their strict testing standards create both implied product endorsements and added value for customers.
“I only carry items that I would give to my own pets, so if it’s in my store, it’s a product I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into. It’s not just something I put on the shelf to see if it sells,” said Nancy Guinn, co-owner of Dog Krazy, which has seven locations in Virginia.
Pet Food Express, a retail chain with stores in California, has also established criteria for the pet food products it sells.
“We have everything from ingredient standards to production standards,” said Jim Castleberry, director of supplier management at Pet Food Express. “As of 2014, we do not allow any consumables made in China. All animal protein must be identified — you must tell us if it is chicken or poultry protein. It must be said whether it is fat or protein.
For retailers, it’s important that manufacturers are upfront about the contents of their products and the materials used to make them.
“I don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out where everything is coming from. They should make it very apparent. It makes my job so much easier,” Guinn said.
While DTC brands may market for customer loyalty, the relationships independent retailers build daily with pet owners cannot be underestimated.
“There is a relationship of trust with our customers, who we call guests,” said Georgann McConn, general manager of Pet Pros, which has 18 locations in Washington. “When someone comes to see us, they speak with a real person who knows what they are talking about and who can give recommendations. There’s something about human connection and trust that you can’t get if you’re selling direct. »
Castleberry agreed, noting differences in channel strategy.
“Major chains have products, and independent pets have products,” Castleberry pointed out. “Big box retailers are very good at display, but we’re good at engagement.”
One of the reasons independent retailers interact so well with customers is because employees know the brands they carry.
Pet Pros conducts comprehensive staff training before introducing new brands.
“It’s important to have consistent training for the first year or year and a half that we bring a brand,” McConn said.
Each month, Dog Krazy trains employees on a different product, and Guinn frequently makes training videos explaining the benefits of specific items. She knows firsthand that combining educational materials with product samples drives sales. Guinn uses samples to gauge how her own pets like the products.
“If they like it, of course I’m going to recommend it,” she said.
She also sends out sample boxes with qualifying orders to solicit customer feedback.
“It actually led me to bring in new product lines,” Guinn said.
Castleberry agreed that sampling is key to successfully selling pet products.
“A direct-to-consumer marketing campaign can introduce people to the brand, but it doesn’t do a good job of introducing them to the actual product without a sample in hand,” Castleberry added. “We can put an actual sample in a customer’s hand and send it home with information. Ultimately, we can better understand and communicate the nuances that differentiate this brand from other brands. »
Before Pet Food Express stores consider new items, manufacturers must complete interview sheets about their products and their long-term business goals.
“We don’t usually enter into business relationships with short-term suppliers. It’s usually long-term,” Castleberry said.
Making partnerships work
Not taking independent retailer feedback seriously can be a costly mistake for brands.
“If they want to be in a store like mine, they have to accept constructive criticism and embrace it,” Guinn said. “If their product is selling well in other stores, maybe it doesn’t need to be in mine. But if you really want to be in my store, take the changes seriously.
Brands can gain valuable insights from independent retailers.
“If a brand contacts us, we’ll bring them marketing information that they probably don’t have,” Castleberry said. “Because we’re interactive, because we ask questions, because we have trials, we create opportunities for more information about their product and that of their competitors.”
Collaborating with brands on promotions works well for Pet Pros.
“We mix things up, but we love the in-store promotions and the marketing support — social media and co-branding each other,” McConn said. “We know this formula works.”
When independent brands and retailers do their homework and understand each other’s needs, mutually beneficial partnerships are formed. Knowing whether an independent retailer prefers sustainable, organic, or even sugar-free products can help brands find the best retailers for their products.
“When I started this business in 2016, everyone said there was no way people would buy this type of dog food,” Webb said. “To see now that the big independent chains are excited about what we do is a lot of validation. We hope to be able to prove that this is an exciting channel for new and innovative brands. »