Sales for refrigerated dog-food makers soar

The divide between dogs and their owners has never been so small — and a fast-growing niche of gourmet pet-food makers is cashing in.

Demand for refrigerated pet foods, which must be devoured within days of purchase and are often advertised as good enough for humans, is surging as owners grow increasingly concerned about their pets’ health.

Instead of bagfuls of dry kibble or canned meat that’s loaded with preservatives, New York-based delivery service Pet Plate sells refrigerated dishes like “Lip Lickin’ Lamb,” which comes with sweet potatoes, quinoa and broccoli, as well as essential, dog-friendly vitamins and minerals like taurine.

Pet Plate, which has raised $6 million and expects to announce a fresh round of funding in the coming weeks, focuses for now on dogs because “cats eat a lot less” — or less than a quarter of the pet-food market, founder Renaldo Webb told The Post.

“The humanization of pets has hit dog owners more,” Webb adds, noting that “cats are not seen in strollers as frequently as dogs.”

Refrigerated pet food still represents a tiny fraction of industry sales at retail stores — just $323 million last year, versus $31.7 billion overall, according to research firm IRI.

Nevertheless, sales in the refrigerated niche soared 28 percent last year, while dry dog-food sales rose 4 percent, to $5.4 billion, and wet-food sales gained 9 percent, to $1.8 billion, according to IRI.

“There’s an ‘aha!’ moment that’s happening with consumers as they realize that they are eating all of these healthy foods and still feeding their dogs dry kibble,” DA Davidson analyst Brian Holland told The Post.

The lion’s share of the retail refrigerated business is going to publicly traded Freshpet, a 14-year-old, Secaucus, NJ-based company.

Freshpet has installed fridges in some 19,500 supermarkets, drugstores and big-box retailers that distribute its signature wurst rolls and bags of fresh-cooked, meat-and-vegetable dinners. Demand for the dishes, which must be consumed within a week of being opened, has sent Freshpet’s stock surging more than 80 percent during the past year.

Freshpet is slated to report its fourth-quarter results next week, and Wall Street expects its 2019 revenues will surge 26 percent to $244 million — accelerating from already-torrid growth of 17 percent and 24 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

“Freshpet’s growth is absolutely an indicator of the [refrigerated] category’s success,” says Alexandria Jarrell, co-founder of NomNomNow, a San Francisco-based delivery service.

Customers who sign up for NomNomNow get a questionnaire that tracks some 125 data points on their dog, including weight, breed, age —even a diagram in which owners select the picture that resembles their poop.

Indeed, the start-up sells a $90 stool-testing kit to determine what “microbes are living in animal guts” so it can make dietary recommendations. The test might find that a dog needs more fiber, probiotics or more exercise, for example.

Over the past four years, NomNomNow has raised $13 million from Silicon Valley venture-capital firms. Its sales more than doubled in 2019 and continue to increase month-over-month, according to Jarrell.

Yaff Bar, a snack bar that hikers and campers share with their dogs on the trail, is “selling well” online and in some outdoor-focused stores, says co-founder Mary Powell. Mark Brooks, her husband and a trained chef, created the recipe five years ago with ingredients that are safe for dogs, excluding such items as chocolate, macadamia nuts and sugar.

“I envision a day when people prepare meals and can sit down and eat it with their dogs,” Powell said.

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