Sparky is welcome to browse the aisles with his owner. Fido can taste the latest all-natural treats. There’s even an exercise area for Fluffy.
No, this is not your local Petco. It’s Bone Marché, a new venture by supermarket retailer Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., operator of 11 Lunds and 11 Byerly’s grocery stores in the Twin Cities and surrounding area.
The 4,000-square-foot store, located adjacent to a Byerly’s supermarket in St. Louis Park, Minn., carries supplies and foods for pet dogs, cats, rabbits, fish and birds. Also for sale are clothes and accessories, and even pet-oriented coffee mugs, greeting cards and other items.
The store has a separate entrance from Byerly’s, and welcomes pets on leashes.
Like its Byerly’s supermarket counterpart, Bone Marché distinguishes itself by focusing on upscale, specialty and locally supplied products. Finicky pet owners will find specialty brands like Blue Buffalo, Solid Gold and Honest Kitchen, and local products like Espana grooming products, Sojos dog food and Sister Jones dog biscuits.
The store even boasts a “bone bar” that has refrigerated and frozen pet foods and rare treats, including Angus beef and rawhide bones.
Lund provided a press release on the store, but declined to comment further.
In just a few months of operation, the store has already built a following. Among the consumer reviews posted on online review site Yelp:
• “Excellent customer service! This will be my new stop for everything pet related!”
• “I was impressed with the selections of dog coats at this store — one of the more stylish selections in the city.”
Lund kicked off Bone Marché in a big way in September 2012 with a grand opening that awarded the first 250 customers a free pet food tin. A pet photographer was available for photo shoots, and representatives from Homeward Bound Pet Rescue were on hand to discuss pet adoption. There was also a contest during the festivities to win a six-month supply of Canidae dog food or Felida cat food.
In marketing materials, Bone Marché emphasizes its specialty and locally supplied product assortment.
One local supplier is Espana Silk, Minneapolis, manufacturer of all-natural grooming products that can be used by both humans and pets.
Espana products have been sold in select Byerly’s supermarkets for years. When Lund was planning Bone Marché, it asked Espana to be a part of it. Espana knew the partnership would be a perfect fit, according to Trudy Midas, company president.
“We’re a boutique product,” she said. “We really love being part of the community.”
Bone Marché’s focus on products like Espana makes sense at a time when pet owners are increasingly seeking out natural and organic pet products.
“People are better educated and realize now how chemicals can affect not only humans, but also pets,” Midas said.
While natural and specialty products are typically more expensive than mainstream counterparts, many pet consumers don’t mind paying more for an item that’s healthier for their pet or the environment. Espana’s price points range from about $13.99 for a half liter of shampoo to $25.99 for a 1-liter bottle.
“Some people will pay more for their pets than themselves,” Midas said.
That’s because pets are sometimes the primary, if not only, form of companionship.
To educate consumers about its products, Espana conducts in-store samplings and demos at Bone Marché about twice a month.
“It’s a unique store in that it’s owned by a supermarket,” she said. “It has a one-stop-shopping appeal.”
Bone Marché is the only supermarket-owned pet store in the area, according to Lund.
“It’s a perfect fit since we have a product that’s unique and a first-of-its kind, and Bone Marché is a first-of-its kind,” Midas said.
Read more: What the Vet Ordered: Pet Prescriptions
Along with opening Bone Marché, Lund deepened its commitment to pet owners by launching a program offering discounted pet medications at its 14 in-store pharmacies.
Such efforts come at a time when pet lovers have “humanized’ their pet, meaning they view their fluffy friends less as animals, and more as a member of the family.
“People feel that pets add much to their lives, and are going out of their way to ensure longer and healthier lives for their pets without letting cost become a significant barrier,” said Bob Vetere, president and chief executive officer of the American Pet Product Association, Greenwich, Conn., a trade association.
Regardless of the economy, pet owners continue to purchase for their pets with a decided focus on health and wellness, he said. They are seeking out premium dog and cat foods, treats, health care products and dietary supplements.
Consumer buying patterns for their pets began to increasingly mimic their patterns for human products about five to seven years ago, Vetere said.
“With the same family member making buying decisions for both human and pet nutrition it is easy to see why such purchases mirror each other,” he said.
Take the food category. Consumers demand human and pet foods that are natural and organic, vitamin-enhanced, age-specific and designed for specific health ailments.
They’ve also increased awareness about natural/organic foods, and will absorb the added cost by making cuts elsewhere in the family budget.
Indeed, demand for specialty pet food makes sense at a time when the American culture is paying more and more attention to healthy living in general, said Maggie Johnson, owner of Sojourner Farms Natural Pet Food Co., Minneapolis, another local company featured in Bone Marché.
“Folks are realizing that once they ‘try’ a natural pet food, they quickly realize how cost effective and pleasingly beneficial it can be; it’s validating,” Johnson said.
Sojourner markets the “Sojos” brand of dog food and treats made from scratch with no fillers, preservatives, colors or flavors. The Sojos original dog food is a blend of ingredients to which dog owners can add their own meat and veggies to create fresh, homemade pet food.
Bone Marché carries the full line of Sojos dog and cat food, as well as treats and catnip.
To educate the public about the brand, Sojos conducts frequent tastings at Bone Marché. A demo representative has a variety of food, treat samples and literature displayed on the tabletop, along with a couple of bowls with the food mixed up. As customers come in, reps explain the Sojos product line and offer samples for free.
“Customers love to see and smell the food mixed up because it helps them see just how healthy and whole the ingredients are,” Johnson said.
Johnson likes being part of Bone Marché because its staff is knowledgeable about its products. Another benefit is that the store is so close to its operations.
“What makes our partnership with Bone Marché so successful is that we happen to be in their backyard, and the Twin Cities happens to be a place where ‘local’ really does matter to most people,” she said.
Retailers are catering to finicky pet lovers by broadening their assortment of specialty products.
Take West Point Market, Akron, Ohio, which opened a 1,500-square-foot section called “Paws” in 2011 that stocks only natural, organic and low-allergen cat/dog treats and food.
The section features unique items like wheat-free dog bones, turkey jerky and sweet potato biscuits.
West Point attends trade shows to find new and innovative pet foods, grooming products and accessories.
It was at a recent National Association for Specialty Food Trade show that West Point discovered Cloudstar’s Buddy Biscuits, all-natural dog treats that contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, making them suitable for dogs with allergies and sensitivities. West Point sells a 6-ounce bag for $5.99.
“They are all natural and made with real fruits and vegetables,” Chief Executive Officer Rick Vernon told SN.
Another new item is Isle of Dogs, gluten-free, antioxidant-rich, whole food dog treats. A 24-item bag sells for $5.99.
A popular item at the store is Northern’s wheat-free biscuits, which sell for $8.99 for a 17-ounce bag. Part of the appeal is that they come in unique varieties like grilled venison and turkey/cranberry Canadian bacon with blueberries.
The typical pet shopper at West Point owns a $1,000 purebred dog that rarely goes outside, and sleeps in its owner’s bed. Such shoppers don’t hesitate to pay a premium for what they consider top-of-the-line food, treats and related items.
They want healthy snacks and are willing to pay $9 a bag to get it, said Vernon.
“I wouldn’t spend that much for a snack for myself,” Vernon joked.
If even one customer requests an item, West Point will source it. Such was the case for Healthy Dogma all-natural, grain-free “Barkers” pet treats. Shaped like a dog bone, the treats come packaged in a dome-shaped cup. Selling for $7.99 for ½ pound, they come in unique flavors like whitefish, lamb and carrots, and buffalo (made with real Bison meat).