This has led to an increase of the market segment; the U.S. pet food category, for example, has grown at a steady, consistent rate, rising by approximately 10% between 2013 and 2018 to $25.2 billion, according to Mintel estimates. One of the main drivers in this segment is humanization, which remains a key trend in the industry, particularly as pet ownership in the U.S. also continues to rise.
The premiumization of pet food has also played a significant role in market growth in recent years, thus creating further opportunities for pet food, treat, and supplement manufacturers to develop super-premium products that meet consumer demand. However, this has also generated further challenges, including overcoming complex manufacturing processes and stringent regulations to ensure that pet food products are delivered to the highest quality standards.
This article looks at key trends in the pet nutrition market, as well as the main health concerns that pet owners are looking to address through specialty food and supplements. We’ll also explore how these are influencing pet food manufacturers, who often face formulation and regulatory challenges.
Changing consumer behaviors have undoubtedly fueled growth in the pet nutrition segment. With an increasing number of households now owning pets, consumers are putting greater emphasis on pets being central to family life.
Indeed, research from the American Pet Association showed that, in 2018, 68% of U.S. households owned a pet, with 76% of owners reportedly thinking of their pet as a member of the family. This suggests that pets have become more humanized in the minds of their owners, to the point of being attributed human qualities and lifestyles. In addition, some demographic groups, such as millennials, are leading the trend by blogging about their pets or using social media platforms to talk about their experience of being a “pet parent.”
More and more pet owners are mirroring their own lifestyles on their pets, including dietary preferences and supplement usage—based on the assumption that what is good for them is also good for their pets. For example, as dietary supplements have increasingly become more prominent among consumers over the last decade, Mintel research suggests that 30% of young pet owners are more likely to purchase pet food enriched with vitamins, while 34% are reportedly buying all-natural pet food products—a reflection of their own values and choices, with cost not being a primary motivation.
While pet supplements continue to gain momentum, treats remain a key driver in the market, accounting for 19% of pet food sales in 2018. Highly praised by pet parents, treats are a convenient way to reinforce the emotional bond between pets and their owners, as well as being an ideal method to deliver nutritional ingredients in one, single dose.
With humanization also comes premiumization—another key trend driving the pet nutrition segment. As promoting overall wellness for a healthier and longer life has become a priority for pet parents, an increasing number of individuals are willing to pay a premium for added-value pet food products that offer health and wellness benefits for their beloved animals. Fish oil, for example, can be found in premium pet foods, treats, and supplements to promote healthy skin and hair, which is a prime concern for owners.
This has also driven a more omnichannel approach to pet food product sales, with pet owners now turning to the Internet to purchase premium food products. Indeed, according to Packaged Facts, Internet sales of pet food, particularly premium products, have overtaken food store sales of pet food in the U.S., with e-commerce projected to reach a 20% market share by 2022.
In line with these evolving purchasing behaviors, many major consumer health and wellness trends—including joint health, weight management, and active nutrition—are transitioning into the pet heath industry. In fact, health trends in pet food are now only a few years behind those for humans.
Often untreated by pet parents, weight management, for instance, is an issue that is particularly pertinent to the pet industry. An estimated 55.8% of dogs and 59.5% of cats are obese or overweight in the U.S., with this figure predicted to increase in years to come, according to the Pet Obesity Prevention association. This is partly due to the fact that owners tend to overfeed their beloved pets, as a way to ensure that they are happy.
Studies are, however, exploring how nutritional intervention may help to address this issue, and the findings demonstrate that L-Carnitine, an ingredient used widely in human weight management, can also play a role in supporting weight management in pets. Indeed, L-Carnitine helps the animal’s body to metabolize and convert dietary fat into energy and enables more effective fat utilization, which may also improve physical performance. In addition, L-Carnitine has an ingredient definition by the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) for use in the manufacturing of dog foods, wet and dry treats, and in complete feeds, base mixes and premixes.
Due to genetic predispositions, some pet breeds are more likely to develop specific health conditions. Joint health, for instance, can affect breeds such as Labradors at a young age, creating discomfort and affecting their ability to move. Obesity can also put further strain on joints, therefore leading to the onset of osteoarthritis (OA).
Research from the American Pet Product Association suggested that 53% of pet owners rank joint health as a leading concern when looking for condition-specific pet foods or supplements. As a result, it is no surprise that ingredients designed to support joint health are gaining traction in the pet food industry. Undenatured type II collagen, for example, as part of the increasingly popular super-premium pet food category, can help to enable mobility and flexibility to support improved joint health.
As a result of the ever-changing nature of the pet nutrition segment, new manufacturing challenges continue to emerge for brand owners looking to develop specialty pet foods, treats, and supplement products that are in line with consumers’ needs. For example, as today’s owners become increasingly discerning, the quality and sourcing of ingredients is becoming a key part of their expectations, as they look to provide the best possible support for their pets. The desire for transparency has meant that clean label is an emerging area in pet health, with products that are organic and non-GMO becoming increasingly common. This is particularly true among millennial pet owners, while older “pet parents” prefer products that contain science-backed ingredients, according to Mintel.
Finding the right dosage form and delivery format can also be challenging in the pet nutrition segment. Pet food processing can be complex for manufacturers, as heat sensitive ingredients may be destroyed during production. It is essential that manufacturers choose the right dosage form to ensure that the correct dose is delivered to the animal.
Developing safe products and transparent ingredient lists for specialty products can present challenges for manufacturers, especially from a regulatory perspective. In the U.S., for example, the pet food industry is highly regulated—even when compared to the regulated human nutrition segment.
As 84% of consumers reported that manufacturers should do more to ensure the safety of pet food and treats, according to Mintel, it is crucial that brand owners have the resources necessary to develop fully compliant products. While regulations in the U.S. vary according to state, with Texas, Kentucky, and Colorado being the most rigorous, product claims must be approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Claims are all structure-function related; that is, an ingredient is shown to support a specific metabolic or health function and cannot be made unless signed off by the FDA or supported by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).
To receive support from the NASC, pet food, treat, and supplement manufacturers must be prepared to support product claims with extensive scientific research. However, manufacturers seeking ingredient definition approval from AAFCO for pet food and pet edible products such as treats, chews, and nutritional supplements, must provide further scientific evidence, including dosage claims, recommendations, labels, toxicology, and safety studies. In addition, pet food plants must be able to demonstrate high standards of manufacturing and follow the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), to ensure that the finished product contains the required dose and will have a shelf life to meet the needs of pet owners.
In recent years, the pet nutrition market has significantly evolved, with new trends such as humanization and premiumization redefining the role of pets within the U.S. household.
In addition, pet owners have become increasingly aware of the ingredients and products their pets consume to ensure that they live a long and healthy life. This is creating further opportunities for manufacturers to differentiate themselves and innovate in the marketplace. However, with safety and transparency key, supplement manufacturers must also overcome challenges such as the need to meet stringent regulations and make the right dosage format selection, to deliver efficacious specialty food and supplements for pets.
While the pet nutrition market is set to evolve further, influenced by human nutrition trends, this could lead to new approaches in the pet food segment, including the personalization of diets.