Private label pet food sales are thriving as consumers continue to get smarter about what to feed their pets. With demand at an all-time high, you might be wondering how to make a private label product of your own. Here’s everything you need to know.
In this blog, we discuss the ins and outs of private label pet food—everything you need to know to deliver something distinct to your customers.
WHAT IS PRIVATE LABEL PET FOOD?
Many retailers offer a mix of products in their stores, striking a balance between national brands and store brands. National brands are those prominent, household names sold by multiple retailers. Meanwhile, private label pet food (a.k.a, the store brand) is an exclusive product manufactured for sale through one retailer—yours.
There’s a growing opportunity for retailers to push their own private label brands. To see why, let’s examine the current pet food marketplace.
Pet Food Sales Channels: Where Are Consumers Buying Pet Food?
Today, pet parents expect a diverse menu of products. They also expect more flexible and convenient buying options. That’s why consumers can now purchase pet food just about anywhere.
In 2020, 22% of consumers purchased pet products from big box stores, like Target and Walmart. Grocery stores trailed right behind at 21%.
Other sales channels include:
- Chain pet stores like PetSmart and Petco (16%)
- Local pet stores (12%)
- Online pet suppliers like Chewy.com (11%)
- Online from Amazon (6%)
From this data, two things are clear:
- Consumers have more access to more products than ever before.
- Big box and grocery stores (where private label thrives) are advancing in the pet food market.
The Pet Food Marketplace
It’s not just sales channels that have grown. Consumers also now have access to the widest variety of products, ever.
Private label pet food brands have contributed to this product diversification, as retailers have recognized the need for more than just a few shelves of value-priced dog and cat food products.
So, as you consider building your own private label pet food program, it’s important to consider where your product or product line will fit into the tiers that make up the pet food marketplace.
Value. This is the original purpose of private label pet food. Products in this category appeal to customers focused on price. These pet parents are less likely to scrutinize the ingredient list, which usually contains meat byproduct and corn or wheat. However, while not the top priority, don’t sacrifice palatability and digestibility. This segment is designed for customers who want to feed their pets safe food at a reasonable cost.
Mainstream. Products in this category give equal weight to palatability, digestibility and price. Typically found in a supermarket or drugstore (as opposed to specialty, chain pet stores like PetSmart or Petco), these products pair byproduct meals or pure meals with higher-quality grains, creating a formulation that is attractive to both pet palettes and consumer wallets.
Premium. These products offer higher-quality ingredients, appealing to those discerning customers who value palatability and digestibility over price. On the bag, you’ll find real-meat or meat meals as the top ingredients. No byproducts. Grain-free or at least high-quality grains. An increasingly popular tier, many premium products are free of dyes and feature only natural preservatives.
Super Premium. This tier is the land of opportunity for retailers looking to capitalize on the premiumization trends in pet food. Consumers in this segment are looking for the highest-quality ingredients: real meats, grain-free formulas and maybe even a taste of the exotic (alligator, lamb, duck). These pet parents expect the “total package”—from the pet bag design to the formula within.
Pet Parent Buying Behavior
As consumers have expanded their priorities and tastes, the marketplace has blossomed. And so have private label brands that position themselves to meet the ever-changing needs of their consumers.
The truth is, more and more consumers perceive private label brands as equal to national brands. People looking to save money without skimping on quality can now turn to the alternatives that private label pet food offers. While your focus may not be on value, in particular, it’s likely that your price is still lower than that of a competitor due to lower costs (more on this later).
But lower price doesn’t need to mean lower quality. Private labels can position themselves as premium or super premium products, too.
So, what’s in it for you?
WHY PRIVATE LABEL PET FOOD?
Private label pet food offers a myriad of quantitative and qualitative benefits to retailers like you.
The cost of private label pet food is lower compared to purchasing national brands to resell at your store.
Plus, R&D is risky and expensive to attempt without a manufacturing partner – especially one with access to deep marketplace intelligence. This is because if you invest in R&D and have to write off the project, you bear the full brunt of the cost.
Higher Profit Margin
With private label, you don’t have to pay a portion of your sales to the supplier or name brand – it’s all yours.
Only you, the retailer, sells this product. There’s value in that exclusivity. If you have a good product, you’ll keep customers coming back for more.
When you develop a private label brand, you can use unique branding from your store. This coupled with the exclusivity of your product generates stronger customer recognition. Again, if the product is good, you will build excellent brand loyalty.
You control everything. From product factors like formula, size and package design to sales factors like price and distribution. You have the freedom to make the choices that work best for your business.
Plus, you have more flexibility to pivot in the marketplace. Develop and implement new ideas to gain market share or make quick adjustments to products based on evolving customer preferences and trends. What you sell is in your hands.
The pros of private label pet food are abundant, but what about the cons? Well, even though you can control everything about your pet food, your product will still be dependent on the manufacturer you partner with. It’s important to select a private label pet food manufacturer you can trust. Someone you can depend on to deliver the quality you are promising your customers.
HOW TO CREATE A PRIVATE LABEL PET FOOD BRAND
You now know the specific opportunities and benefits of private label pet food. But how do you actually make it happen?
1. Select a Private Label Pet Food Manufacturer
The manufacturing of the product itself might seem like the last step of the process. It is, but the partnership that you are relying on to deliver a quality pet food product starts well before production.
A good pet food manufacturer will guide you through the entire process. From R&D and packaging design to production and distribution. Whether you’re looking to create a specific product that you have already dreamed up or something completely new, focus on selecting the right manufacturer. Then, the following steps will go much smoother.
2. Determine Product Details with Your Pet Food Manufacturer
If you’ve already determined these details – great. If not, here’s what you need to figure out. You will want to make sure these factors align with your pet food manufacturer’s capabilities.
Product type. Extruded kibble. Baked treats. Baked kibble. Cans of pet food. What do you want to deliver to the marketplace?
Price tier. Value. Mainstream. Premium. Super premium. Where do you want to fit in the marketplace?
Volume. How much do you want to make?
Formula. This decision depends on the capabilities of your pet food manufacturer. Alphia offers 60+ house formulas, ranging from mainstream to super premium, that can meet the needs of a variety of pet food brands and customers. But you can also go the custom route. Bring your blue-sky concept forward and let our in-house formulators and vetted supply partners make it a reality.
3. Get a Quote
You’ve nailed down the pertinent details. Now, you’re ready for a quote. This quote will be based on your exact needs, including:
- Product formulation
- Shipping needs
4. Develop Packaging & Brand Attributes
Once you’re on the same page with your pet food manufacturer as it relates to your product formulation and quote, it’s time to take a step back and look at your private label brand as a whole.
The goal: Create a product that stands out on the shelf.
Here are a few different brand attributes that you should consider:
Bag size. The shape and size of your formula (round, square, triangle) will help you determine your desired bag size. You want a bag that does not appear too full or too empty.
Bag style. Bag style depends on your product type and volume. Options can include:
- Stand up pouch: A popular option for treat packages weighing 1-8 lbs.
- Quad seal bag: For small- and large-volume bags weighing 3-40 lbs., offering 4 panels.
- Flat bottom bag: For bags weighing 2-25 lbs., offering a larger design canvas.
- Pinch bottom bag: For larger-volume bags, typically on the bottom shelf.
Packaging materials. Paper, plastic or polywoven? Many brands choose to seal in freshness with sliders, hook and loop closures, or press-to-close zippers.
Compliance. Your bag should not only appeal to consumers but to regulatory authorities as well. Most states follow AAFCO model regulations for writing clear and uniform pet food labels.
The final step of the process: Manufacturing. Before actual production can begin, your pet food manufacturer should perform quality assurance tests.
Your product needs to be the whole package. If it looks great on the shelf, but pets refuse to eat it (poor palatability) or end up at the vet with health issues (poor quality), your consumers will not return. That’s why, in the manufacturing process, you should run palatability tests and production trials.
Palatability tests. Palatability testing will tell you if your brand can compete when it comes to taste and desirability. And how to best tweak your formula to deliver the combination of flavor, quality and value that will best meet your business goals.
Production trials. Production trials are necessary to confirm the integrity of a formulation, product size and shape, and to ensure density for package filling prior to package sizing. If a product is blown through the extruder too quickly, you risk a kibble that is undercooked – which could potentially cause digestive problems for pets. Rather than automatically opting to crank out 15 tons an hour versus 10, a reliable manufacturer will confirm product quality by examining cook percentage and percent of gelatinization during a trial run. This will ensure you achieve a high-quality product that promotes palatability and digestibility while optimizing density and speed of production.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A PET FOOD MANUFACTURER
Quality pet food that’s highly palatable comes at a cost—as all great products do—but the right manufacturer will work with you to create a private label brand that meets palatability goals, stands out on the shelf and increases sales enough to offset the cost of production.
Look for a pet food manufacturer with:
- A commitment to product quality and safety. This means SQF-certified facilities, food safety standards and quality assurance.
- Deep industry expertise and market insights, helping you make better business decisions for your pet food category or brand.
- Active and engaged R&D team members who can help you capture trend opportunities and solve product challenges.
- A wide range of ingredient capabilities from audited, trustworthy sources, so you can develop the pet food that your customers are looking for.
- Strategically located, nationwide facilities, so you can keep your product close to where your customers are.
Private label pet food opportunities are abundant. As pet food sales increase across multiple distribution channels, the time is now to get in front of your customers with a brand that aligns with not only their pets’ nutritional needs but also their values.
Alphia helps private label brands develop market-leading pet food from concept to distribution. Let us know about your pet food needs.