Petfood Industry Interview with Steve Marton, CEO, Halo, Purely for Pets
Q: What new brands, products or packaging have you introduced in the past 12 months (or how many)? Can you provide information on how they are doing in the market to date?

A: Halo, Purely for Pets (www.halopets.com) has been our one brand since 1986. The Halo brand has grown to include natural food for dogs and cats (both wet and dry), treats, supplements and grooming products.

This year we've added two exciting new product lines - Halo Healthsome treats, and Halo HolistiClean stain and odor remover. The Healthsome treats are exceeding expectations, and complement our award-winning Halo Liv-a-Littles protein treats to provide everything you need for healthy treating. HolistiClean is launching as we speak.

Q: What are your company's keys to growth?
A: Three things have driven Halo's growth since 1986: the ingredients in our products, partnerships with our retailers, and the trust (and passion) of our consumers. And since 2008, we've added a fourth key: promotional and charitable campaigns with co-owner Ellen DeGeneres, and our legions of evangelical consumers, that are second to none in the industry.

Every Halo ingredient is a real, natural ingredient that consumers recognize and understand. Every meat we use can also be sent to make human food products.

You won't find Halo in supermarkets or discount stores. Our pet specialty and natural store retailers appreciate that. And they notice consumers signing up for our email newsletter receive a free trial coupon redeemable exclusively in their stores.

Since 2008, we've had regular appearances on The Ellen Show . We added QVC. We have weekly editorial placements in the media. Beginning in 2009, our consumers are sending their friends and family hundreds of thousands of Halo-related messages on Twitter and Facebook. That's loyalty!

Q: What would you say sets your company apart from the competition? (R&D, product development, product promotion, etc.)? What do you strive to be known for?

A: Halo products have the best ingredients for dogs and cats. Plain and simple, that's what we strive to be known for. That's why Ellen DeGeneres became a part owner of our company. That's why she spreads the word. That's why similarly-passionate pet owners do everything in their power to spread the word as well. As more and more consumers are reading ingredients labels - and understanding what the ingredients are - our sales improve. For example, consumers are just starting to understand ingredients like "chicken meal," which is a rendered meat, is unfit for human consumption. Does that mean it's terrible for animals? Certainly not. But consumers who want the best ingredients for their pets prefer ingredients like real chicken, eggs, and pea protein.

Q: Please provide sales estimates for the past year or current year to date-or a comment on sales trends.

A: We feel very thankful to our retailers and our consumers that we're still growing very rapidly, even in a down economy.

Q: What is the outlook overall for the future of your company? Any projections or possible new directions?
A: We're very excited about the future, as more and more people think of their pets as members of their family. We take a holistic approach, focusing on healthier, happier pets, inside and out. I think you can look to expansion of our offerings in food, treats, supplements and grooming. Halo HolistiClean stain and odor remover is a great example.

Also, as new natural ingredients are discovered with health benefits for humans, you'll see the best find their way into Halo products.

Q: Where do you see your biggest opportunities?
A: Our biggest opportunity is education. As consumers and even retailers learn more about ingredients, Halo stands out. A few years back, a number of us even working at Halo weren't as enlightened as we are now. It's exciting to see a world-wide learning curve showing a growing care for animals.

Q: How has your company changed over the past several years?
A: Our flagship products like Halo Spot's Stew, Halo Dream Coat, and Halo Liv-a-Littles treats are the same extraordinary recipes they've been for over two decades. But we've added products like dry food, baked treats and more, so that more people can participate in our brand family. Thanks to Ellen, our retailers, the media and social media, the speed of spreading-the-word has changed dramatically for us.

Q: What are some of your most difficult challenges? In other words, what keeps you awake at night?

A: The price of our ingredients! It's not easy using only the best ingredients, and maintaining a price point that allows as many people as possible to give their pets the best. Having said that, more and more consumers recognize the importance of having pets in their lives, have concluded that purchasing a premium quality product is a small price to pay for the health and happiness of their pet.

Q: Were you affected by the 2007 petfood recalls and, if so, how?
A: Ironically, there was a significant impact, in terms of increased sales for Halo. All of our meats and vegetables are grown in the USA. All our production is in the USA. As consumers began scrutinizing the origin and quality of ingredients, many switched to Halo.

Q: How do you think the recalls affected the industry overall, and do you believe those changes should continue?

A: Yes, I think they did impact the industry. We're certainly very happy about any change that improves safety for animals.

Q: How would you evaluate the current state of the petfood industry?

A: The petfood industry is following the same path of the human food industry, just a few years behind. As we're reading the ingredients and buying more natural, healthful products for ourselves, now, we're doing the same for our pets. Industry trend statistics certainly back this up.

Q: What predictions do you have for the petfood industry?

A: We'll continue to follow the trajectory of the human food industry, with higher-quality, natural products rapidly gaining share. Consumers will know more, and expect more, in terms of quality ingredients.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers about your company?

A: An important part of our mission is giving back. Consumers know we "walk the walk" in caring for pets, including pets waiting in animal shelters to be adopted. We're proud to work with Freekibble.com, and shelters such as Best Friends Animal Society and Bideawee to really make a difference. This year, we plan to donate well over a million meals to shelter pets. Look out for more exciting developments in our social mission work this year too!