Small dogs, big personalities: the pet food experience

How pet food companies are including pet personality in their formulation and marketing strategies

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Small dogs come with big personalities, and pet food companies are weaving that knowledge into their formulation and marketing strategies for small breed pet foods. | (Alona Rjabceva |
Small dogs come with big personalities, and pet food companies are weaving that knowledge into their formulation and marketing strategies for small breed pet foods. | (Alona Rjabceva |

Small dogs are somewhat notorious for not realizing that they’re small, and pet food experts are creating meal experiences that not only meet small dogs’ nutritional requirements, but also suit their outsized personalities.

Creating a pet food experience for small dogs

“We’re about creating this theory of no more boring bowls,” said Dr. Danielle Bernal, BVSc, MRCVS, global director – nutrition and technical communications for WellPet LLC. “So we’re really dialing into that, and that’s where [WellPet has] the variety obviously with dry and wet, but then we’ve got the next wave, of sorts, of the new natural: kibble plus freeze-dried meat. We know dogs crave meat. So when we add raw bits in, it’s not a sausage material. It’s literally diced meat, freeze-dried on a tray, packaged and tipped into the bowl. It’s as pure as you can get, and I think that’s what a natural customer and especially a small breed customer wants.”

Making an experience out of a meal for both pet owner and pet extends to many different types of food being produced for small dogs.

“For us, it’s really playing up that lifestyle of small breeds,” said Courtney Toder, e-commerce & channel marketing manager for Solid Gold Pet. “[Our Mighty Mini line represents] a fun, happy dog that really speaks to the big personality of little dogs, and I think that’s why so many owners love their small breed dogs — it’s those big personalities in little packages.”

The Mighty Mini line, which now offers both dry and wet versions of its formulas, was initially a single-product line that started getting attention for expansion when Solid Gold realized small dogs were becoming big business.

“We already had that bubbling base of people who had small breeds, and then when small breeds took off our product took off, but it was just the one product (Mighty Mini with chicken formula),” said Jeff Fuller, Solid Gold’s vice president of marketing. “So we built that line up to attract people in, and I think we’ve had a baseline of success on the product: the size of the kibble, the formula, little teeth, little dogs, high metabolisms, picky eaters, there are a lot of challenges to overcome and we really nailed it, so expanding [that success] out across the line seemed to make a lot of sense.”

Knowing your small dog owner

Staying on top of this growing trend involves a close relationship with and knowledge of both the small dogs with their big personalities, and the dogs’ owners who want to cater to their dogs’ lifestyles.

“When you look at who’s really looking for what’s new, what’s next, it’s our small breed guys,” said Bernal. “And I think that’s where we’re able to cater to their needs.”

WellPet now offers bowl boosters, which Bernal said introduces the same kind of variety into a dog’s dinner that the human owner wants in their own meals. “Say you’re primarily feeding something else (a kibble-based diet, perhaps), but you want to give them a flavor of ocean tonight, some lamb tomorrow night, beef the next night,” she said. “You can then have a variety of boosters in your cupboard that you top and mix every night to provide that variety, to keep them engaged, keep that fussy breed loving their dinner and licking that bowl clean.”

Whether it’s dry food, wet food or something in between, small breed dog owners want to provide their furry family members with the same type of meal experience they create for themselves. And with more small breed options landing on pet food shelves all the time, it looks like the pet food industry is making the most of that knowledge.

For the full companion article, Small breed dog food becoming a big pet food market, published in the May 2018 issue of Petfood Industry magazine, see

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