For pet owners, nothing matters more than the health of their beloved companion. So, when the FDA released a report suggesting a link between grain-free foods and a higher risk of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), it created a wave of viral anxiety.
You likely already know about the study, which involved several prominent brands. You’ve probably also seen how it’s increased buyer fear, increased product returns, decreased sales, and created an overall heightened concern for pet safety.
As a pet food retailer or distributor, it’s important to understand the controversy and its impact. If you feel like you’re not sure what to say, but also don’t want to turn customers away, that’s understandable.
The best thing you can do is to help educate your customers, instead of simply reacting and pulling products or accepting decreased sales.
Consumer Power and Trends Related to the DCM Scare
Retailers aren’t in charge anymore, due to a pet food market that grows more diverse every day. Instead, the consumer has the power. They’re able to buy what they want, when they want it, from a multitude of outlets.
But, the DCM controversy isn’t a time to recoil in fear. Instead, it’s an opportunity to embrace consumer power, lean in, and educate them about making good choices for the health of their pets.
Let’s take a look at a few important points to consider regarding the FDA’s DCM study.
- DCM impacts less than 0.01% of dogs. There are 90 million pets in the US. According to the FDA, there have been 524 anecdotal reports of DCM in canines.
- Grain-free doesn’t mean it’s safe. Grain-free is an umbrella term that’s causing a lot of misrepresentation about certain products. Grain-free only means a product is devoid of grains. It doesn’t specify what ingredients are in the food.
- No known link between diet and DCM. The FDA report clearly states that there is no “conclusive evidence of a dietary link between DCM and specific diets.” In other words, DCM is a misunderstood disease, and its relationship with diet requires further investigation.
Overall, the DCM controversy, while serious, is a more complicated issue than most consumers realize. Staying informed allows you as a retailer or distributor to help educate your consumers and become a leader in the industry, rather than a victim of a media scare.
Strategies for Education, Open Conversation, and Increased Sales
Once you understand the critical issues behind the DCM controversy, the question becomes, “How do I relay that information to my customers?” To help get you started, we’ve compiled a shortlist of strategies that encourage empathy, open conversation, and education.
By employing these strategies, you can avoid becoming a victim of the DCM controversy and use the issue to build trust that can help you increase sales.
Encourage your employees to engage customers in conversation. Host demos, hand out samples, or find another way to help your customers have a“feel good” moment. The key is to build trust, practice empathy, alleviate fears, and create a safe space where they’re comfortable listening to your advice and feedback.
Having confidence in your own brands and products is critical if you’re going to demonstrate that confidence to consumers. In the case of DCM, the evidence doesn’t match the controversy. If you can show pet owners that the sensationalist headlines they’re seeing don’t represent the facts, you can make them feel more secure about their buying decisions. In addition, here are some other strategies to build confidence:
- Remind consumers that more recognizable brands were included in the FDA report, so they aren’t necessarily safer than smaller pet food brands.
- Remind them that “grain-free” refers to a wide range of products whose ingredients can be very different. The best food choice for their dog is the one that reflects their individual pet’s needs and veterinary recommendations.
With open conversations, education, and more confidence, consumers are more likely to come to you for their pet food needs, leading to increased sales and profits. Why? Because when a consumer wants to shop because it’s fun, rather than scary, they’re more likely to return to that experience again and again.
As you consider your own offerings, consider the benefits of bringing on new brands or focusing your sales efforts on existing brands. With ISOs and new brand partnerships, you can often get promotions and free samples that can help transform consumer buying experiences.
At the end of the day, consumers simply want to feel confident that they’re doing what’s best for their pets. Help them feel safe and make responsible decisions by being an educated advocate.
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