The pet food market is dominated by a few well-known brands manufactured by international conglomerates: Purina, Pedigree, Iams, etc. But there are numerous pet owners seeking healthier alternatives for the four-footed members or their families, who might be receptive to a new approach to both food and pets’ overall wellness. Better pet food is a growing part of the $26 billion U.S. pet food market: 76% of dog owners and 71% of cat owners believe high-quality foods are effective for preventive health care, according to Packaged Facts.
Like many other retailers seeking a niche in a well-established industry, the founders of NomNomNow are tapping into the needs of a new generation, offering “pet parents” fresh, specially formulated food made with top-notch ingredients that meet their specific dietary needs.
In an exclusive Q&A with Retail TouchPoints, Alex Jarrell, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer of NomNomNow, reveals how the company sets itself apart from traditional pet retailers. One of the retailer’s biggest challenges has been overcoming customers’ preconceptions of what pet food should be, including a skeptic in Jarrell’s own family.
Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What has been your biggest marketing challenge? Has it been difficult to explain the need for higher-quality pet food to customers or investors?
Alex Jarrell: For us, it’s education and awareness that’ve been the biggest hurdles. My dad is a retired veterinarian, so when we told him what we wanted to do he said ‘That’s kind of funny, dogs eat dog food and dog food is kibble. I don’t know if you will be successful with that, because there is a very strong association between kibble and dog food.’
We really had to focus on educating our customers and our potential customers about why eating fresh actually does make a difference, about eating human-grade ingredients — not filler, byproducts or artificial preservatives, but actually functional food. We know the human industry has really followed this trend; we know that when we’re eating healthier, we feel better. The pet food industry is a little bit behind, so we’re gradually coming around and understanding about the way to treat our pets. If we feed them food full of byproducts and fillers and nonfunctional things their bodies have to get rid of, that’s not what’s going to help them be their healthiest self.
It was really important for us to educate and to provide a product that we know delivers on all these health promises.
RTP: Can you tell me about the founding of NomNomNow and its offerings?
Jarrell: It was born on a need, which I feel is how a lot of great companies started out. My miniature Australian shepherd Harlee, when she was about a year old, started having a lot of health issues that we found out were related to a weakened immune system. She couldn’t fight off common ailments as a normal dog could.
After many trips to the vet and thousands of dollars in vet bills, we were given the option to go further into the antibiotic route or to start cooking for her, taking a more holistic approach. Our veterinarian provided us with a recipe, and we saw a world of difference in her health.
Then we started looking around, because that’s no small feat to take that on and make sure you’re doing it appropriately, especially for pet parents who are already working. When we first started looking around for a service to take over the job it was really lacking, there wasn’t anything available. So my brother-in-law, husband and I decided we would quit our jobs and work for ourselves, and that’s how it all got started. We even teamed up with one of the leading animal nutrition specialists in the country, board-certified veterinary nutritionist Dr. Justin Shmalberg. He formulates all of our recipes.
We decided early on that we aspired to be more than a pet food company, and what we really wanted to do was tackle overall pet health. As activists, it was really important for us to set an example, for us to provide fresh meals. We just feel there is value in having the nutrients available, and being prepared only days before arriving to you so your pets are getting the maximum nutrients from their food.
RTP: How is the growing humanization of pets affecting the industry? Do owners have higher standards for what they feed their pets than in the past?
Jarrell: It’s a great opportunity for us because people are starting to ask questions and have doubts about the information they’ve been presented for so long. We are really considering our pets part of the family, and we are really supporting that relationship. People are taking the time to explore that maybe there is a better option or a better place, or to ask ‘How do I keep my pet around for just a little bit longer?’ There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for one more day with them.
That means a much stronger focus on preventative health care, which is what healthy eating really is. Taking time for Harlee, for example, it’s less than $5 a day for me to serve her fresh food. Before we were paying thousands of dollars for vet bills, but she hasn’t been to the veterinarian in two years. It’s something where we have seen a huge improvement for her.
RTP: Do you find that shoppers approach pet health e-Commerce similarly to the way they look at other online retail, or does the industry have its own quirks and customer demands?
Jarrell: We hypothesized from the beginning that this would be a difficult decision for people to make. I knew as soon as I went out and talked to people at the dog park about it that we would get a million opinions. What we found is this is actually a much bigger decision for pet parents than just going online and purchasing something from your typical e-Commerce site.
For us, changing diet is definitely something that is a multi-touch point sales process. It’s something that we have to home our messaging in on at every point. You can’t just change their diet on a whim. It’s something that involves a transition period, something that we need to be very cautious about. It’s a longer sales cycle than I expected it to be. When you bring customers in you need to take the time to onboard and educate them, set expectations and really help them with the transition.
That’s something we’re really passionate about, establishing a culture with both our team and our customers. We’re very much a family and a support system, and that’s important to them because we know the decision. The decision is not just going online and doing a bit of shopping, this is actually a lifestyle change and significant to your pet’s health.
RTP: Who are your biggest influences? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from them?
Jarrell: For me specifically, my biggest influence is not specific to retail, but it’s my family. They were entrepreneurs my entire life, so I’d look to them as they started businesses and would dive into new ideas. They were very, very impactful in how I approached this business.
In terms of retail impact, I love fashion, and one of my favorite brands is actually Alice + Olivia. The founder of that company is Stacy Bendet, and I love the way that she never compromises on her brand, and she’s very true to the style in everything that she does. The biggest thing for me is that she empowers women. I really love that she’s constantly listening to women, and that’s something I really want to do here at NomNomNow with our team.
I also appreciate the transparency in her brand. We haven’t really been able to trust, necessarily, what has gone into our pet food and its nutrition, so I want to be that source of transparency and that pet health company. I just want to feed all the dogs and all the cats!