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Shop Local Gift Guide: Sunflower Pet Supply Focuses on Organic, Healthy Goods

Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 14:11

Sunflower 1

Ryan A. Ruiz

Sunflower Pet Supply owner Beth Iverson.

Sunflower 2

Ryan A. Ruiz

Gift Idea: Interactive dog toys, $30-$40

Sunflower 3

Ryan A. Ruiz

Dog chews, $7-$10

Sunflower Pet Supply

1840 E. Warner Road, Tempe, 480.775.2891

Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Beth Iverson's first foray into healthy pet food was spurred by an obvious and not uncommon cause: a sick dog.

From the first time she brought home an 8-month-old puppy, it became obvious that he was suffering from health issues that lingered even after instituting a diet of commercial dog food recommended by her vet.

"Nothing seemed to cure him. He was very, very sick. No one knew what was wrong with him," Iverson said. "So I started doing research, and basically, just by switching his diet, it almost completely cured everything that was going wrong with him."

Iverson continued researching healthier brands of dog food not available at chain stores, and using her business know-how – she graduated from NAU with a bachelor's degree in business management – she opened Sunflower Pet Supply, a Tempe shop that has now been open for four years.

"My store is pretty different than any of the big chain stores, even down to the brands that we carry," Iverson said. "We pretty much don't carry any brands that are in the big stores. I always use the word: we're a ‘holistic' pet supply store."

The interior of Sunflower Pet Supply doesn't look too much different from a chain store, only on a much, much smaller scale. There isn't 25,000 square feet to get lost in like your area Petsmart or Petco, but there are shelves stacked high with kibble, walls of pet accessories like collars, leashes, water and food dishes and a wide variety of pet snacks, toys and, yes, animal clothing.

But a closer look at the merchandise reveals a very different inventory than your average warehouse store. Organic. Free-range. Fair-trade. Handmade. Locally-grown and raised. These are the kinds of eats and swag usually reserved for foodies and fashionistas, not Fidos and Fluffies.

Pets are a member of the family, yes, but they're also big business.

"I've been in business for four years, now, and I've seen a shift," Iverson said. "I think people are becoming more specific about where they want to put their money."

Chain stores offer mass-manufactured kibble by the pound, cheap toys fresh off the factory line and more bones than a graveyard, but rarely do they cater to local- and health-minded consumers in need of food and supplies for pets. Sunflower fills that niche rather charmingly.

According to Iverson, the ‘holistic' brands aren't often found in the chain stores by these brands' own design.

"It's almost like they're starting to see the value of not having it be available in 50 stores," she said. "It kind of drives up demands sometimes, I think, and I think more of them are wanting to work on a one-on-one basis with the smaller, locally-owned businesses."

Iverson and her staff take on a one-on-one approach with customers, too, taking physical and behavioral traits into account when making food recommendations for a specific pet. The food is also stocked with this concept in mind.

"With the big-brand foods that are in the big chain stores, they usually will use a lot of fillers like corn and wheat and stuff like that that has virtually no nutritional value for the pet, but it's a cheaper way to make a food," she said. "So a lot of the more natural brands try to base their diets more on the evolutionary diets of cats and dogs, so a higher meat content, lower grain content, no byproducts. It makes them more expensive, but it's much higher quality.

"In the long run, I don't know if you end up spending more money or not because the vet bills are a whole lot less," she added.

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