HACKENSACK, N.J. — Some pet supply store owners say the
trend of customers seeking pet food containing
all-natural ingredients might cost customers more, but
it has brought a growing number of better-informed pet
owners into their shops.
2007, a massive recall of pet food that contained the
chemical melamine, which is used in fertilizer and
plastic utensils, shook customers’ preferences from
generic food that contains corn, wheat or soy toward
hormone- and steroid-free, grass-fed, all-meat
ingredients, owners said.
fact, through May 2013, the percentage of dog food
brands claiming to be "gluten-free" was 28.6 percent, up
from 12.6 percent in the full year of 2012, according to
a report on United States pet food trends last year by
Supply Side Animal Nutrition Insights. In the same
report it said natural pet food accounted for $1.5
billion in sales in 2009, and was projected to outpace
the sales of traditional pet food over the next five
This shift in what customers wanted to feed their pets
forced some store owners to expand their offerings of
pet food, which added costs to their bottom line. But it
also helped build trust with their customers. While
large retailers like Petco offer organic and all-natural
food, the owners said being a smaller store offers them
the opportunity to talk one-on-one with customers and
offer specific food recommendations for certain breeds
"There is absolutely a push for better ingredients,"
said Susan Weinrich, the owner of Westwood Pets
Unlimited in Westwood, N.J. "Customers now want
grain-free, high-quality food for their pets."
Weinrich said over the past five years the number of
brands offering higher quality ingredients in their pet
food has skyrocketed. She estimated that as many as 25
to 30 brands are offering holistic ingredients, and her
store offers about 10 of those brands, she said. Over
the past few years, Weinrich said she has attended trade
shows, seminars and devoted hours to self-educating
herself about the ingredients used in pet food.
But the demand from customers for higher-quality pet
food has driven up the cost on both ends of the
purchase. Weinrich said a five-pound bag of
lower-quality food once cost her about $8 to order,
where the higher quality food popular today will cost
between $16 and $18 for a 5-pound bag.
"The idea for customers behind good quality food is that
you’re spending money now, but will save it in the long
run when you don’t have to go to the vet down the line,"
Shawn Kim, the owner of Mama’s and Papa’s Petshop in
Englewood, N.J., said he has seen an influx of customers
coming to his store looking for better quality food,
rather than shopping at supermarkets or chain stores.
While the high-quality food costs him up to 15 percent
more for each bag, Kim said his customers are willing to
pay higher prices on the retail side of the purchase.
"At least in our community, we are seeing that customers
are willing to pay a little extra because in the long
run, they are actually saving money with the healthier
food," Kim said.
Karl McQuilken, the owner of New Jersey’s Wholistic Paws
in Ridgewood and Bark Ridge in Park Ridge, said his
stores sell only all-natural pet food.
"People love their pets and are passionate about their
pets, and we’re seeing that at our store," said
But Weinrich said that while all-natural pet food is
driving traffic to her store, the food has the lowest
markup of the items she sells, so the key to remaining
profitable is getting customers who come in for the
healthier dog food to buy some of the other items she
sells in the store — such as accessories or toys for
"The dog food isn’t a money maker, that’s for sure,"
Weinrich said. "When people realize that our store is
knowledgeable and can direct each individual customer to
a specific brand of food that is the right fit for their
dog, they will oftentimes find something else in the
store to buy. That’s where we make the money."
McQuilken said most of his customers ask questions about
different ailments their pets might have, and he then
directs them to the best pet food that would fit that
"While the all-natural food is a little more expensive,
most people are willing to pay it because of the
connection they have with their pets," McQuilken said.
"How can you put a dollar sign on that?"