Associating one’s brand with dog excrement sounds like a marketing disaster, but that strategy worked for Heed Foods, a dog food company with 70% growth in top line revenue month-over-month since its January 2019 founding.
“When people think Heed Foods, they think ‘Oh the dog food company that helps your pups’ poops!’” Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer Melanie Han said.
The dog food brand’s focus on gut health arose after Heed Foods struggled at first to find the right marketing message for its product, she said. The company’s founders considered the kibble they had developed to be a revolution in the pet food market. In their excitement, they wanted to tout every benefit of the dog food, including effects on energy levels, skin and coat. However, Han and Co-founder and CEO Rei Kawano discovered that too many messages may cause cognitive overload in consumers.
Heed's kibble comes in two bag sizes (5 and 10 pounds) and two formulas (fresh chicken and ancient grains; fresh salmon and superfoods). | Photo courtesy Heed Foods
“When we first launched we thought the more benefits we share, the better,” she said. “We were marketing many of our value props simultaneously, but pick up was slow and we realized that customers didn’t understand our product.
“Customers are constantly being bombarded with products and their attention spans are incredibly short," she said. "We realized we needed to emphasize just one or two of our biggest benefits to catch our customers’ attention. Now we focus on communicating the importance of gut health and how effective our product is in improving gut health.”
While messaging remains a challenge, Heed has found their niche in gut health. The connection between the digestive system and overall health has expanded in public awareness as evidence of its importance grows. Scientists have increased their focus on digestive tract health during the past decade. The results of that research suggest that everything from anxiety to allergies may be influenced by the gut and the microbes within it. Although research on pet digestive health lags that on humans, the microorganisms in human and dog guts seem similar, which suggests gut health of the two species also may mirror each other.
“Heed is the gut-health-focused pet wellness company,” Han said. “Everything that we produce, from our kibble and treats to our blog articles, are solely focused on improving pups’ digestive wellness.”
Relationship building with dog food buyers online
To get that digestive health dog food, customers buy directly online.
Heed offers a subscription service that highlights consumer convenience and discounts for repeat orders — an increasingly poplar strategy in today's omnichannel pet food market. | Photo courtesy Heed Foods
“I believe that the key to our success can be directly attributed to our ability to speak to customers one-on-one and work quickly to resolve issues,” Han said. “Now, more than ever, customers seek brands who genuinely care and they can trust. We were able to establish trust early on because we control the entire customer experience.”
Closely curating the pet owner experience helps the dog food company reduce customer turnover.
“Acquiring new customers is pricey for new businesses, so once we do acquire new customers we do everything possible to ensure they stay satisfied,” she said.
Heed Foods dog food, topper and treat formulations
Those customers can buy two varieties of prebiotic kibble dog food from Heed Foods. One is a salmon and superfoods grain-free recipe, the brand’s original variety. The other is a chicken and ancient grains formulation launched in November. New customers currently favor the grain-inclusive recipe, Han said. Heed Foods includes a bag of freeze-dried toppers with each kibble delivery, which can also be ordered separately.
Heed offers gently freeze-dried toppers to add a variety of textures, flavors and nutrients to pets' meals. | Photo courtesy Heed Foods
“Separating the toppers from the kibble not only allowed us to ensure the same inclusion rate across each delivery, but also ensured our toppers stay fresh throughout the lifetime of the kibble,” she said.
Heed Foods' top seller in the topper and treat category is a freeze-dried probiotic apple treat that Marie Claire magazine featured in a list of best dog gifts.
“Recently, we began focusing our marketing efforts to include public relations, resulting in features in various notable general interest consumer magazines, such as Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan,” Han said. “We knew that we had to get noticed by these types of major outlets, but found it difficult because they don’t always feature pets.
“Our efforts seemed to have paid off!” she said. “We’ve seen a lift in not only our website visitors but also in our conversions as we’ve been able to further establish consumer trust by showcasing these features on our homepage.”
With media-savvy marketing, a health focus, internet sales and catered-to customers, Heed Foods may embody many of the forces disrupting the pet food industry today. Han believes that the pet food industry will continue to see companies narrowing their focus by marketing specific benefits of their brands.
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, USA
Officers: Co-founders Melanie Han and Rei Kawano
Brands: Heed Foods
Website/Social Media: www.heedfoods.com, @heedfoods on Instagram
Notable: “4”: The average number of days it takes for Heed to improve our pup customers' digestion.
“I believe that the key to our success can be directly attributed to our ability to speak to customers one on one and work quickly to resolve issues.”