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How Nordic BARF-Manufacturers Will Turn Niche Into Mainstream

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Stefan Anbro Bio

BARF is a niche on the Nordic market.  But holding 5% of total dog food value sales it’s a big one. And it’s growing. This should make BARF manufacturers happy and it does, but more interestingly, growth stimulates the appetite for further growth, and so we see a number of ambitious BARF manufacturers taking concrete steps to expand their target group further. If they succeed they may not turn things upside down. But they will cause some change.

New channels and new products

BARF is an acronym for biologically appropriate raw food. Basically, it’s raw meat, raw bones and raw organs. These products are sold frozen and manufactured by small specialised players, which are building up this market parallel to the mainstream market for processed dog food. So far, the primary target group has been a rather small minority of dog owners, who share a strong belief that raw meat is what healthy dogs are meant to eat by nature. This community of BARF enthusiasts has helped BARF manufacturers to grow their business. But in order to grow further they will need to reach out to the mainstream consumer.

If recently in Norway, such a mainstream consumer should have happened to visit the popular pet store Buddy, he or she may have noticed a new product – bags of frozen raw meat.  This is a brand of BARF called Provit supplied by Norsk Dyremat, which is gradually expanding its distribution network.  Distributing BARF is tricky as the products are frozen, and to sell a large selection of frozen products retailers need a lot of freezers, which they mostly don’t have. But’s that’s all a question of volume. BARF is growing and we are reaching a point where a large retailer like Buddy estimates that allocating floor space to freezers will pay off.  So Buddy includes Provit in its range of products, just like the leading Swedish pet stores Arken Zoo, Grizzly Zoo and DjurMagazinet offer BARF in a growing number of outlets. We even see a BARF-brand like the Swedish Klass being sold in a number of ICA supermarkets. Frozen raw dog food is gradually entering mainstream distribution.

If increased distribution is one path to mainstream presence, then product development and added accessibility is another.  In Denmark, the leading BARF brand is Rigtig Hundemad. The company used to offer only pure single ingredient products, ie pure beef, pure tripe, pure salmon etc. Those were popular products, but it takes some skill to feed them to your dog. You will need to know how to combine meat, fish, organs and bones into a complete diet, ensuring that all the nutritional needs of your pet are covered. For the well-educated BARF-enthusiast, this may even add to the appeal. But the mainstream consumer may easily feel confused. So in 2014, Rigtig Hundemad decided to add something new to the selection – BARF ready meals. These are mixed products, containing everything a dog needs. And so, feeding a BARF diet becomes a realistic option for a lot of new people.

Getting stronger

The question remains if BARF manufacturers have the muscle to challenge Mars, Nestlé and the other giants of conventional processed dog food. They don’t. But they are getting stronger. The leading Finnish BARF manufacturer, MUSH, entered Sweden in 2012, and in 2014 the company expanded into both Norway and Germany. In the same manner, manufacturers like the Norwegian Vom og Hundemat or the Swedish Bravo are expanding to neighbouring countries. Domestic players are becoming regional – and potentially even more than that.

So the entry of Provit into a major mainstream pet store in Norway is not an isolated event. It’s part of a trend. BARF manufacturers are increasing the distribution of their products, they are making the products more user-friendly and the most ambitious of them are growing into strong regional players. All this will contribute to further growth. Obviously, frozen raw dog food will never challenge the status of Mars and Nestlé as market leaders in the Nordic countries. But reaching a value share of 10% within the foreseeable future is not unrealistic. That wouldn’t be a revolution. It does, however, make BARF an important factor to take into account.

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