Crisis drives growth in alternatives

A significant volume and dollar share opportunity now exists as a result of the recall crisis

Manhertz H Cropnew Headshot
A significant volume and dollar share opportunity now exists. - Huntley Manhertz Jr.

The alternative petfood segment has embraced the crisis arising from the petfood recalls earlier this year. Expectations for the health of the segment is that it could realize double-digit growth over the next couple years as consumers' negative perceptions about the safety of traditional mass-produced foods drive down sales of those products.

A significant volume and dollar share opportunity now exists as a result of the recall crisis. According to Packaged Facts, this is a highly emotional issue for many petfood manufacturers, as potential brand shifting in the market might happen as a result of consumers seeking safer, higher quality foods for their pets.

The introduction since June 4 of 38 new petfood products claiming "no wheat" on their labels, more than were rolled out in all of 2006, shows just how fast the industry has changed. The main beneficiaries in the brand-switching trend will be higher quality petfoods, especially natural/organic, homemade and other alternative types of products, according to Packaged Facts. (For more information, see "Selling safety," p. 24). While many of these alternative brands had significant momentum before the recall, concern over petfood safety stands to boost sales of these items even more.

Veterinary response to homemade petfoods

A quick Internet search lists hundreds of articles touting the benefits of homemade petfoods. But some veterinarians strongly urge pet owners to think twice before preparing their own petfoods.

"I don't recommend that people make their own dog food from household ingredients," says Jim Kramer, DVM, owner of Columbus Animal Hospital PC in Columbus, Nebraska, USA. "It's quite difficult to nutritionally balance the petfood with the proper amounts of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals."

Dr. Kramer says petfoods are, by law, fortified with the proper balance of nutritional components and are nutritionally sound foods for dogs and cats. He believes there is no reason for pet owners to panic. The use of homemade foods could be especially harmful to young animals with age-specific needs; large breed, fast growing dogs; and animals that require prescription diets, he adds.

Harold Lange, DVM, of A&M Veterinary Clinic, also in Columbus, Nebraska, agrees. "I would recommend sticking to prepared petfoods that have not been incriminated in the recent problem," Dr. Lange said. "Most people already feed small amounts of table scraps to their pets. I would not recommend homemade formulas as this could be more detrimental to the animal's overall health."

100 years of benefits

An informal survey of veterinary clinics and pet boarding facilities revealed an increased number of calls about the problem and a consensus among veterinarians against homemade petfood or a diet of table scraps. "The truth is, many of the increased medical problems we see are with animals that have too much human food in their diet," Dr. Kramer said. "We have a couple of dozen animals that have died from contaminated petfoods, but no one is talking about the millions of animals that have benefited from prepared petfoods for the past 100 years they have been on the market."

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