You may have noticed: the pet food industry is somewhat at a standstill. Over recent years, manufacturers and marketers have been all about pet food that is natural, limited ingredient, frozen, raw, freeze-dried, grain-free, and...oh, did we mention natural?
The rise of the super-premium pet food category can be largely attributed to the popularity of pet humanization and incorporating cats and dogs into our daily lifestyles. No longer do many consumers simply purchase the cheapest option at the grocery store; rather, pets are our children, and as such, they deserve the best.
But like any other trend, the growth can only go so far. Sure, the laggards could begin to jump on the bandwagon and slowly grow sales, but the time for convincing new customers to switch their diets is coming to an end. As Mark Kalaygian notes in a recent Pet Business Magazine article, sales of natural pet food have already hit the mass market, and there's not much further to go from here.
Deriving From Human Food Trends
A tried-and-true strategy for forecasting upcoming trends in pet nutrition is looking at the food we are eating ourselves. This is true now more than ever, as human-food companies dabble in pet food.
At a glimpse, there is a large focus around eating healthier and simpler - with diets such as Paleo, plant-based, and Whole30 growing in popularity. The idea is simple: less processed foods, more vegetables and real food.
Transparency and mindfulness of what we're consuming every day is one trait of this phenomenon causing a disruption in the food industry. We're more willing to eat real vegetables rather than veggie sticks, for example.
They say that foods without nutrition labels are the healthiest ones for you (i.e. fruits and vegetables). In other words: Limited, real ingredients that we recognize are what we're looking for in our diets.
How does this translate into pet food? While plant-based diets aren't the best thing for our carnivorous animals, the emphasis on real food and limited ingredients is sure to go strong. As we become more mindful of what we're putting in our bodies, we're likely to do the same with our pets.
Additionally, as we get tired of large corporations dictating our food quality, we forecast a growth in "homemade" - or at least locally made, such as something you'd find at a farmers market - pet food diets.
Those who are on a budget may still opt for those natural, albeit mass-produced, diets, while others who are willing to splurge may look for the more local and sustainable route.
Growth in Pet Food Trends
The next place to find our up-and-coming trends in pet nutrition is by looking at what's right under our noses: the pet food trends growing in popularity today. These are trends that still have yet to enter the mass market portion of the product lifecycle and have potential to do so very soon.
Why have a regular treat when you can inject some extra nutritional benefits into it? A recent Packaged Facts survey as reported by Petfoodindustry.com states that:
"70 percent of US consumers say treats with functional benefits play an important role in their pets’ health, and 71 percent look for treats that address health concerns or offer extra nutrition."
I can personally attest to purchasing treats for my cat that have an added benefit, namely dental health. Anecdotally, it makes treat time more than just a great moment for my cat - I feel like I'm also being a good pet parent by giving him that extra benefit as well.
Perhaps this is one reason why functional ingredients are growing so steadily. Although they've been a part of the market for a number of years, new types of benefits are coming to the scene. For example, cranberries are being added to diets to treat and prevent UTIs in pets.
Pet Food Supplements
On the other side of functional ingredients lies the growth of supplements in pet food. As awareness for health issues related to age and obesity grows, pet owners are looking for a way to ensure their loved one is around for as long as possible.
According to the December 2016 National Pet Owner Survey, 39% of dog owners and 32% of cat owners with aging-related health issues purchase pet supplements. For obese pets, the results are 28% and 31% respectively.
The overarching idea is to provide a multi-functional diet to pets while also tackling major health concerns such as aging and overweight animals.
One reason I love having a cat is because he will eat the spiders. Scratch that - he used to; now, he just plays with them. As they do.
Who knew that those creepy crawlies that you'd rather squish than make use of could be turned into a novel protein for pet food? Although very new to the pet food scene, there is certainly potential for this unique ingredient.
What's more, it's said to be sustainable as well. In fact, one pet food manufacturer claims that "their dog treats produce 740 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than beef protein sources and 230 percent less than chicken."
We may have a way to go before we convince the mass market to purchase dog food made of crickets, but it certainly fits the bill for limited ingredient, natural, and real pet food.
If you've been following our articles for any period of time, you know that we are big believers in limited ingredient diets. They're the ultimate combination of natural pet food, easy-to-understand nutrition labels, and premiumization.
Limited ingredient diets (LIDs) are just as simple as they sound: pet food without very many ingredients. Most of the time, the ingredients that are present are usually 100% natural and don't contain any additives or chemicals. With the rise of the humanization of pets, pet owners are drawn to diets that are similar to their own; they like feeding their pets food that they themselves would eat.
They, too, are nearing the mass market potential. As sales increase and more variations are introduced every year, the reason behind their success is simple: they're simple.
This article is simply our speculation based on what we see happening in the industry. Do you have a different perspective? Comment below with your forecast for upcoming pet food trends.