The grocery war in Sarasota has gone to the dogs.
Or maybe it’s a canine cupcake conflict.
Even I’m having a hard time telling.
Either way, we’re seeing a surge in organic-focused dog stores just as we’ve seen an uptick in health-centric grocers and artisanal cupcake shops. Pumping money into pets isn’t a new retail trend by any means, but it’s one that finally seems to be gaining some speed in Southwest Florida. The canine retail equivalents of The Fresh Market and Sprouts Farmers Market — with shelves of all-natural kibble and designer toys — seem to be increasing locally.
American shoppers in recent years have leaned toward healthier and artisanal options for themselves. It’s only natural that would trickle down to their four-legged family members.
Three Dog Bakery at 8455 Cooper Creek Blvd., just north of University Parkway, is the newest retailer to join the pup-pampering mix in Sarasota.
I got a taste on Monday afternoon of how dogs must feel when humans eat in front of them. Only, I didn’t get a taste at all. The cupcakes, whoopie pies, truffles and carrot cake that I found at Three Dog Bakery looked good enough to eat, but they weren’t really for me. I did check the ingredients of the pink frosted “Wagamelon Pupcake” just to be sure, though.
The beet powder, apple sauce and honey, among other recognizable things tucked into this treat certainly wouldn’t hurt me, but I’m sure a dog would enjoy it more.
And oddly enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation at a pet store.
The Sarasota store may be Kansas City, Missouri-based Three Dog Bakery’s first move into the Sunshine State, but gourmet pet treats are no rarity in Southwest Florida. Woof Gang Bakery opened its third local store on St. Armands Circle in December 2015. The Orlando-based company already had two other bakeries on the mainland in Lakewood Ranch, at 8314 Market Street, and east of Interstate 75, at 8278 Bee Ridge Road. Woof Gang seemingly has a decorated dog biscuit for every canine personality or occasion — doughnuts, seahorses, butterflies, egg on toast and martinis.
I don’t even have a dog and I caught myself buying some of Woof Gang’s pumpkin spice treats for a friend’s beagle, Gonzo, a few months back. I did the same thing at Bark n’ Bath, 2061 Siesta Dr., in December. The locally owned shop had some alligator-shaped biscuits that I just had to tuck into the Christmas gift I was shipping to Gonzo’s owner in Las Vegas.
But the $10 or so I’ve spent on Gonzo isn’t anything compared to the national statistics.
Americans spent $66.75 billion on their pets in 2016, according to the American Pet Products Association. That figure is up from $60.28 billion in 2015 and has more than tripled in the past two decades. Consumers only spent $21 billion on their pets in 1996.
The bulk of that $66.75 billion goes toward food, but there’s certainly some room for frivolity in there. Last Halloween, a National Retail Federation survey showed 16 percent of consumers planned to dress up their animals for the holiday. If dog owners are going to dress up their canines as bumblebees and banana splits, there’s probably some room in the budget to dress up their dog biscuits, too.
Consumers have dramatically shifted their spending from things to experiences following the Great Recession. Shoppers are more likely to spend their cash pampering themselves and the people they care about than dumping money into a new wardrobe.
With that kind of mentality, it’s no wonder that we’re welcoming new pet stores with artisanal twists.
If that “Wagamelon Pupcake” makes a dog’s tail wag and the all-natural food helps keep it healthy for years to come, that’s certainly an experience. Watching Gonzo's face when I give him a Three Dog baseball-decorated biscuit when I visit Las Vegas later this month will be one, too.
Every dog will have its day.
At least for the moment, it’s the pet industry’s turn.
Maggie Menderski, the Herald-Tribune’s retail and tourism reporter, can be reached at 941-361-4951 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MaggieMenderski. Read her daily blog at whatsinstore.blogs.heraldtribune.com.