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Pet store owners sell a variety of different products, but pet food is one that requires special attention. A pet’s diet is essential for its overall health, and it’s important to pet owners that they give their dogs, cats, or other pets quality food. Pet store owners can provide fresh, quality food by continually rotating their stock and disposing of expired pet food promptly. By choosing quality products, understanding rotation processes, and implementing the right store policies, pet store owners can keep customers and pets happy and continue to sell great pet food.


Understanding Pet Food Shelf Life

There are various factors that affect how long pet food can stay on the shelf, including ingredients, packaging, and storage conditions. Most pet food packaging will have a visible expiration date. Some read “Best by”, others “sell by” and still others “use by”. “Best by” generally means that after that date the food has passed its peak quality, but is not necessarily expired. The designations “sell by” and “use by” are a better indication that the food is expired and shouldn’t be sold. In addition to reading expiration dates, you should also inspect the food. A change in odor, texture, or coloration or damaged or open packaging could be indicators that the pet food has expired. Pay attention to expiration dates and keep an eye on the food to avoid selling food that may have expired.


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Selecting Quality Pet Food Products

Choosing pet food suppliers can be an overwhelming task. As you research manufacturers and suppliers, resist the tendency to choose the cheapest option. Your customers will thank you for providing fresh, quality pet food. Choose manufacturers with the reputation of quality product and great customer service. When looking at the pet food products suppliers offer, be mindful of the ingredients, the nutrients provided, and production processes.

Pet food labels can be difficult to interpret, but there are a few important things to look for when determining the quality of the pet food. The nutritional adequacy statement tells you what the intended use of the food is - if the food is designated as “complete and balanced”, this means a pet can live solely on this food for their full diet. If it is designated for “intermittent feeding”, it is only intended as an occasional food and does not have the nutrients to support the pet’s full diet. Also be sure to look at ingredients. More processed ingredients generally indicate lower quality. Another good indicator of ingredient quality is a pet’s behavior - if a pet eats the food and seems to have sufficient energy and behave normally, the food is probably fulfilling their nutritional needs.


Establishing a First-In, First Out (FIFO) System

The best way to rotate perishable products in a retail store is with a FIFO system, meaning first-in, first-out. Your oldest inventory will expire sooner than your newer inventory, so it must be sold first, or it is unlikely to ever be sold. To encourage this, the oldest inventory should be the most visible product, at the front of rows and product displays. New inventory should be placed at the back of rows to be purchased later. If newer and older inventory are placed next to each other on a shelf, a consumer will purchase the newer inventory every time so they have more time to use the product before it expires. However, this will lead to wasted inventory and decreased sales, which is why a FIFO system is so important.

Make FIFO your store policy and implement regular inventory audits and rotation checks. Even with a strict policy in place, you’ll need to check on your inventory regularly to make sure it is organized in a FIFO pattern and that none of the pet food on your shelf has expired. Pay close attention to your pet food inventory and train your employees to do the same. Maintaining an accurate stock of fresh pet food will help you build a good reputation with customers.


Proper Storage Practices

It’s important to be familiar with the different kinds of pet food and best storage practices for each one. While it’s unlikely you would open pet food packaging in your store, it’s helpful to understand storage standards for both unopened and opened pet food. Unopened dry food generally stays good for 12 -18 months, but once it is opened, it should generally be used within 6 weeks to 3 months. Be sure to check the bag for specifics. When stored, opened dry pet food should be sealed in its original bag or in an airtight container, which are usually plastic or stainless steel. Unopened canned pet food can stay good for a year or more, but once it is opened, it should be covered, refrigerated, and used within 3 days. Raw meat used as pet food should be stored the same way as any other raw meat - securely packaged and frozen to prevent bacteria from growing.

Both dry and canned pet food should be stored in a cool, dry place, as heat and moisture can accelerate contamination. Direct light can also speed up this process and should be avoided. Be careful to keep pet food away from pests, which can also contaminate it. As you stock your pet store with pet food, try to organize your shelves in an open, accessible manner to facilitate efficient rotation of product.


Managing Excess Inventory and Returns

Inventory management is an essential consideration for any retail store owner, but for perishable items, there is an even greater urgency to keep inventory moving. If inventory is nearing the end of its shelf life and isn’t moving, utilize limited-time sales and discounts to encourage more sales. The less pet food you need to throw away before it can be sold, the less waste you create and the greater your profits.

You’ll also need to make a plan for how you’ll handle customer returns and exchanges for pet food products. There will be times when a certain food isn’t the right fit for a customer’s pet. Perhaps you’ll accept a return for a full refund, no questions asked. Perhaps you’ll decide that once a package is open, it cannot be returned. Perhaps you’ll decide it can be exchanged for another product. Whatever you decide, clearly define your policy and stick to it. Clearly train your staff to dispose of unsold pet food that is expired or damaged. Selling this kind of product can damage your reputation and is harmful to pets.


Educating Staff and Customers

Your store policies will only be effective if your staff understands and follows them. Make sure to fully train your employees on proper handling, storage, and rotation of the pet food you keep in stock. In addition to educating your employees, you should also educate your customers about proper pet food handling. Providing them with information about how to properly store their pet’s food and feed their pet can help them, help their pet, and generate greater brand loyalty. You could display information on posters or pamphlets, or direct them to digital resources. For example, there are pages about proper pet food handling provided by the FDA and the CDC.

Encourage both staff and customers to ask questions if something is unclear - making sure the information is understood will be better for your business, for customers, and for their pets.


Monitoring and Feedback Loop

Even with the best policies in place, you’ll need to be continuously vigilant in monitoring the quality of the pet food you sell and addressing issues that occur. Customer feedback will be an important part of this process. You can ask customers about their experience in-store, provide surveys, or ask for online reviews. The verdict from customers and their pets will be the true test of the quality of the pet food you offer.

As you receive feedback, work to continuously improve your stocking habits and the quality of the pet food you offer. If one brand tends to be significantly more popular than another, stock more of the popular brand. If you find a certain product isn’t selling, you may want to minimize the stock you keep of that product. Trial and error over time will allow you to refine your processes.


Serving Customers and their Pets

Selling pet food requires attention to detail and an intentional strategy. It’s important to be educated about the shelf life of pet food and standards for storing and handling it. Be sure to source quality pet food, maintain an FIFO system to avoid waste and maximize profit, set responsible policies in place, and educate your staff and customers about policies and best practices. Be open to customer feedback and continually refine your process.

Assuring your customers of the quality of the pet food you offer will build trust in your brand and allow you to maintain your business. Running a pet store isn’t solely about making money, it’s also about helping pets. Make pet health and safety a priority for your business. By adhering to best practices and responsibly managing your inventory, you can help customers and their pets and see years of continued success.

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