We tell our children how important it is to eat their fruit and vegetables to stay healthy, so why don’t we do the same thing for our fur babies?
While meat-focused meals – especially raw diets – have become increasingly popular for cats and dogs, it’s a common misconception that pets don’t need fruit and vegetables, says Emma Kumbier, veterinary outreach coordinator for Primal Pet Foods.
“Dogs and cats use fruit and veggies for nutrients and for stool, not for fuel,” she explains. “An all-meat diet is not complete and balanced for dogs and cats. Incorporating other ingredients like fruit and veggies balance the diet with various nutrients that your pet cannot get from muscle meat, organ and bone alone.”
Similarly, another myth pet retailers often hear from customers is the concern that fruit and vegetables in pet foods or treats are just filler or a cost saving measure. That’s simply not the case, emphasizes Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets.
“Fruit and vegetables play a critical part in your pets nutrition and overall health,” he says. “At Loving Pets, we are very mindful to the fruit and veggies we add to all our treats and each addition has a thoughtful benefit.”
Although it may seem like an uphill battle combatting all the misunderstandings and misinformation surrounding the role of fruit and vegetables in pet nutrition, it’s a worthwhile effort for retailers. Not only can educating owners help drive sales of products featuring produce, it’s also an opportunity to become a go-to source of pet nutrition advice in your community.
“Retailers who pride themselves as healers, can act as messengers for the importance of feeding fruit and veggies,” says Dr. Bob Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal. “Education and sharing the benefits of a healthy diet, one which includes phytonutrients and antioxidants, is an important service.”
Providing this important service is one way that pet stores can prove themselves as a trustworthy, reliable source for customers.
“Stores need to be able to educate their customers,” adds Charlie Bachkora, founder of JAC Pet Nutrition. “That way, when the consumer walks in, they trust that store or the associate on the floor to provide them with great nutritional advice. Plus, it’s a differentiator from big box stores.”
The first step to spreading the truth about fruit and vegetables is understanding what each ingredient can do for cats and dogs.
For instance, “apples are a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C, which not only helps to improve your pet’s skin and coat health but can strengthen immune systems as well. In addition, apples are helpful in cleaning tartar from teeth,” explains Abbey.
“Blueberries help with blood sugars and cholesterol because they’re high in antioxidants,” says Bachkora. “They’re a great source of fiber, too. Green beans and raspberries are very similar to that.”
Carrots and sweet potatoes, on the other hand, contain high levels of vitamin A and beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports healthy eyesight. Cranberries can aid in bladder health while the omega-6 in pumpkin is good for pets’ skin and coats.
Of course, not all fruit and vegetables are good for cats and dogs. Grapes, onions, citrus (i.e. grapefruit, oranges, etc.) and coconuts can be toxic or cause upset stomachs and should be avoided by pets.
It’s not just about what these individual ingredients can do, though. Retailers should also pay close attention to the way fruit and vegetables are added to pet products. Whole, minimally processed ingredients pack the best nutritional punch, says Bachkora.
“If you do less cooking and less processing, you actually get more nutritional value and at substantially higher levels than you do when they’re cooked,” he explains.
While independent research is certainly a key part of becoming a category expert, retailers don’t have to go it completely alone. Partnering with trusted brands can also be a great source of education and training.
Loving Pets, for example, “prioritizes communication and education for its distributor and retailer partners, and always wants to offer training and merchandising that help educate, drive revenue, drive a variety of options to clearly communicate benefits and also prioritize transparent ingredients,” says Abbey.
Producing Strong Sales
Given the variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as the rising number of pet products featuring fresh produce, it’s easy to see how owners might get overwhelmed. That’s why one of the best sales tools for this category is expert recommendations.
“Discussing the topics that pet parents ask about every single day – think skin health, urinary health, joint health, immune health, etc. – can facilitate easier recommendation,” advises Kumbier.
When making recommendations, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all option.
“Dogs and cats are individuals with individual wellness and healing needs,” says Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal. “By investing enough time and asking the right questions, finding an appropriate and nutritional match will be effortless.”
Retailers should remember to meet consumers where they are. For some, that might mean they’re ready to make the big switch to a more nutritionally balanced food. For others, it might mean taking smaller steps and supplementing with toppers or treats.
“Food toppers or treats are great solution because retailers get that add-on sale as opposed to trying to move a consumer from a food that they’re happy with,” says Bachkora.
Another smart way to help customers make the transition to products featuring fruit and veggies is providing samples via in-store demonstrations.
“Set up a demo table with fresh produce and incorporate matching foods and supplements containing the fruit and vegetables, advises Dr. Goldstein. “Literature should include the nutritional benefits of each.”
While there is still a long way to go when it comes to spreading the word about the pets’ need for fruit and vegetables, we are seeing a steady increase in consumer interest in more balanced diets.
“We see the future for fruit and vegetables being incorporated into pet foods and treats to continue to closely follow human trends, Humanization’ of treats for all pets (not just dogs) continues to transition from a trend to something that is here to stay,” says Abbey.
“I think the future is really bright for the category,” adds Bachkora. “I think there’s going to be more food, toppers or treats that are fresh fruit and vegetable-driven to add all of the nutrients that are truly needed for a holistic approach to pets’ bodies functioning in peak performance.”