American consumers are demanding more transparency about the ingredients being used within the food products they consume, with the majority of consumers preferring natural, socially-conscious food items. And they are beginning to expect the same for their pets, who are increasingly being viewed as an extension of the family.
The Pet Food Business is Booming
The U.S. pet food market is currently measured at $30 billion annually and experiences about 3-4% growth each year. As a point of comparison, packaged foods in the U.S. grew 1.2%, according to the research firm Euromonitor.
Today’s pet owner looks for pet food that contains healthy, understandable ingredients, largely mirroring their own diet. As a result, the natural pet food industry is growing at a rapid pace. With growing consumer interest in natural pet food, savvy brands are capitalizing on the opportunity to tap into this market. Several weeks ago, General Mills acquired natural pet food company Blue Buffalo for about $8 billion in cash. Blue Buffalo has become a market leader in the natural food category for pet food, which they call Wholesome Natural. This niche represents about 10% of the pet food market by volume, but accounts for more than 20% of its sales.
Organic, Farm-Raised, Sustainable Pet Food on the Rise
Given that the natural/wholesome pet food market seems to be hotter than ever, we did some digging into the most popular ingredients and label claims being used in pet food. According to our database, there are more than 9,000 pet food products on shelves today. Among those, clean label products are on the rise: we found more than 130 products with organic certification/claims and almost 10% (708) of pet food products on the market are labeled “all natural.”
A “high-protein” diet for pets is also on the rise; more than 4,000 products listed a “true meat source” as the first ingredient, namely protein such as chicken, duck or turkey. Interestingly, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine recently revealed that cats are often pickier eaters than dogs, as cats are true carnivores that require high protein and certain amino acids found only in meat. As pet owners begin to pay closer attention to the dietary needs of their pets, and, in turn, select food that better meets those needs, we anticipate that the number of pet food items containing a true meat source will continue to grow.
Pet food products making sustainability claims is also on the rise More than 400 pet foods have sustainability certifications or claims. The most popular sustainability claims used on pet food packaging include: farm-raised (394), cage free (59) and free range (63). These trends are very similar to what we’re observing across the food industry.
Our 2017 Label Insight Shopper Trends Survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of shoppers avoid all things artificial and unnatural. This includes artificial colors (36%) and artificial flavors (35%). Just as shoppers avoid these specific ingredients when grocery shopping, pet owners are also more discerning about the ingredients being used in the food they serve to their pets. We found a staggering number of pet food items that avoid using those very same sub-ingredients: more than 2,000 pet food products were free of artificial flavor and another 1,700 were free from artificial color.
Just as the Paleo and Keto diets have recently grown in popularity due to grain and wheat sensitivities, we saw a similar trend in pet food. Almost one third of all pet food products were either wheat or grain-free: 1,800 pet food products were wheat-free and another 2,000 were grain-free. These ingredients can cause food sensitivities, especially in certain breeds or in senior animals.
The extension of healthier choices and lifestyles into pet care represents a fundamental shift in consumer behavior and preference. As pet owners look for human-grade pet food to feed their pets, we anticipate even more pet food brands will race to meet these demands. Brands that help concerned pet owners better understand the ingredients being used in pet food will earn loyalty and trust.