Health Extension Pet Care: Evolving for pet food industry success
This premium pet food company caters to the independent retailer and has set its sights on high-quality expansion.
Health Extension Pet Care has been busy. In the last 12 months the New York-based premium holistic pet food company has launched three new grain-free formulas under the name Allergix, focusing on the needs of allergy-sensitive pets in the market. The line’s latest formula, Buffalo, Whitefish & Chickpea, has been the most successful product launch in the company’s history. Over the last five years, Health Extension has consistently maintained a 25% annual growth rate—a trend that has continued throughout 2015 so far. And in March 2015, the company officially changed its name from “Vets Choice,” aiming to evolve its brand and better align itself with its new mission statement.
“Our name change and new mission statement were more of an evolution than a change,” says Brad Gruber, chief operating officer of Health Extension Pet Care. “They go back to the reason we started the company: not to have an investment fund buy us out, not to be just another brand on the shelf, but to provide our retailers with outstanding products they can trust. As both shoppers and retailers have come to trust the Health Extension name over time, it made sense to move our whole brand in that direction.”
The company’s new mission statement, says Gruber, is simple yet genuine, getting to the heart of what Health Extension stands for: “Our family is dedicated to providing independent pet store owners with foods they can be proud to sell as their own,” says the statement. “By committing to the finest holistic ingredients at the best possible price, we give pets the nutrition they need—and retailers the competitive advantage they need to thrive.”
“Quality” is a key focus for Health Extension in all facets of its business. “First and foremost is our culture, which stresses uncompromising quality in everything we do,” says Gruber. “The commitment to quality extends to the fundamentals of our business.”
To that end, Health Extension uses all-natural formulas to ensure peak nutrition for pets. The company selects organic and naturally raised livestock that have not been compromised by antibiotics, steroids or artificial hormones, and purchases free-range chicken, turkey, duck and beef from local farms. Health Extension also uses a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals, including organic apple cider vinegar, primrose oil, colostrum and blue and green algae.
Courtesy Health Extension Pet Care
Health Extension Pet Care products are made with organic and naturally raised livestock, free-range chicken, turkey, duck and beef from local farms. The company also uses a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals.
The larger goal related to the company’s name change and mission refinement is, unsurprisingly, expansion. “We are very fortunate to be part of a healthy, viable and growing industry,” says Gruber. “I’ve been particularly encouraged to see the projected industry growth for 2015 and the surge in demand for premium and ultra-premium foods and treats. Still, with our tradition of targeting solid, consistent growth, we will continue to invest only where we will get the best return for our investments—and to partner only with those who are the right fit for us.”
This investment strategy involves a combination of restructuring and cautious optimism. “Along with changing our name from Vets Choice to Health Extension Pet Care, we’ve been restructuring our organization to support our ambitious expansion plans,” says Gruber. “All our employees now have new, upgraded roles and responsibilities. We’ve also brought in a number of industry veterans—a vice president of sales/product development, a vice president of business development and several regional sales managers—to help guide the way in our efforts.”
“At the same time, while the plans themselves are ambitious, we are managing our growth cautiously—by making sure we have the right people within the organization, the right distributor partners to team up with and an established manufacturing process,” he says. “With these elements in place, we can remain a reliable and consistent source of supply to our customers.”
It’s a plan that seems to be paying off so far. In 2004, the company operated out of a basement with two employees. Today, Health Extension works in a state-of-the-art plant in Deer Park, New York, three times the size of its previous location. In the last six months alone, the company has created four new positions that Gruber says weren’t even on Health Extension’s radar in 2014.
“I know many companies say this, but in all honesty, we see opportunity everywhere: domestic markets, export opportunities and new product launches,” says Gruber. “Through meticulous strategic planning and focus, we’ve been able to move forward on all three fronts at our own controlled, cautious and consistent pace.”
Courtesy Health Extension Pet Care
Health Extension Pet Care’s most recent line, Allergix, focuses on the needs of pets with allergy sensitivities.
Expanding a company isn’t without its challenges, something Health Extension is very conscious of. “Filling distribution voids can be a challenge, especially given the higher demand we are seeing for our products,” says Gruber. “Finding the right people and the right partners is paramount in addressing this, which is why we’ve devoted so much energy to our human resources and supply chain. The last thing we want to do is not be the advocate for our brand that we want to be from a support and reliability standpoint.”
In the wake of the recent growth, Gruber says Health Extension’s goal for the near term is to live its mission—and especially maintain product consistency—while expanding to a national footprint.
“We are always going to be a brand that works for the retailer and distributor alike,” says Gruber. “We understand how important it is to be the advocate of our own brand, so we will always strive to have the right people, products, programs and partners in place to ensure success. Our culture will continue to dictate who we are in providing products that are nutritionally sound, cost-effective and, therefore, the choice of people who love their pets.”
Just the Facts
Headquarters: Deer Park, Long Island, New York, USA
Facilities: New York and New Jersey
Officers: Ira Nierman, CEO; Brad Gruber, chief operating officer
Sales: Consistent 25% growth rates over the last five years
Brands: Health Extension
Distribution: Phillips Pet Food & Supplies
Industry perspective: Brad Gruber, Health Extension Pet Care COO
Petfood Industry magazine asked, “What predictions do you have for the pet food industry?”
“The trend toward wellness-related products will continue as pet parents mirror their own lifestyle choices when feeding their pets. And while pet ownership is up, the industry needs to work together as a group to perpetuate this trend.
“On the competitive front, we can look forward to more human food manufacturers entering the pet food market industry to take advantage of the increasing emphasis on feeding pets what we feed ourselves. It will be interesting to see the impact of increased government regulation and changing demographics as well.
“For independent retailers, growth depends on staying focused, identifying industry trends early and embracing technology, all while understanding the influence of the big box stores, food outlets, mass club chains and e-commerce. Independent retailers will also need to track the trend toward distributor consolidation, as it will narrow their options in terms of sourcing.”