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Pet Food gets a Human Makeover

Author: Julian Mellentin, New Nutrition Business

Grass-fed, all natural, customised, plant-based, grain-free…walk down the pet-food aisle these days and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were amongst the most cutting-edge human foods. The spread of buzz-words from human nutrition into the world of cat and dog food over the last few years shows no sign of slowing, with claims such as “made with human-grade ingredients” becoming increasingly popular.

Pets are playing an increasingly large role in our lives – Nielsen data shows that the number of consumers who consider their pet a family member increased by 7% between 2007-2016, and 42% of UK pet food buyers consider their pet a ‘foodie’ [often defined as a gourmet; a person with a refined taste and particular interest in food] (Mintel, 2020).

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Trends in companion animal nutrition often mirror trends in human nutrition, reflecting the desire for of pet owners to feed diets they consider healthy and beneficial for the well-being of their pets.”

Little wonder, then, that as people become more aware of their personal health and nutrition, pet-food companies are successfully appealing to them with attributes that they can understand and personally relate to, including:

Sustainability: Sustainability is becoming a key concern for Western consumers, and a well-thought-out sustainability strategy is a basic ‘must-do’ for every company in every corner of the food and beverage industry – now also including pet food. Words such as “sustainably sourced” and “grass-fed” are increasingly seen on pet-food packaging. Pet-food manufacturers have a unique opportunity to valorise by-products from human food manufacture that would otherwise be thrown away.

Provenance: There is rising demand for products made by local and smaller producers, with such products often considered more sustainable, safe, genuine and authentic. In human food and beverage, 75% of consumers consider country of origin to be as important – and sometimes even more important – than other purchase criteria such as quality or price (Nielsen). It’s no different in the pet-food world, where products that carry claims such as “locally raised” and “proudly made in…” abound.

Clean label and natural: Promoting pet-food products as “all natural” or “organic” is becoming increasingly popular – a reflection of what is happening in human nutrition, where consumers increasingly prefer natural foods made in a kitchen to over-processed products with long ingredient lists.

Plant-based: This is perhaps one of the more unexpected trends to have spread into pet nutrition (mainly dog nutrition), with dogs generally being considered strict carnivores. But 34% of UK dog food buyers believe it is good for pets to regularly have a plant-based meal instead of a meat-based one (Mintel). This belief is supported by vets and scientists, although always with the warning that pet owners must ensure their dog’s diet is balanced and nutritionally adequate.

Digestive wellness: With many pets having sensitive digestive systems, the desire to care for this is a key priority for many owners. According to Mintel, 76% of cat and dog food buyers believe that actively looking after pets’ digestive health is essential for their overall health and 44% buyers said they would have positive beliefs about pet-food products claiming to contain ‘good bacteria’.

Personalisation: The past few years have seen a fragmentation of consumers’ beliefs about what ‘healthy nutrition’ entails, with people making up their own minds about what is good for them and why. Personalised nutrition has grown in popularity and started to spill over into the pet nutrition market. Research has shown that nearly half (45%) of pet-food buyers would be willing to pay to have their pet’s DNA tested to identify the healthiest diet for their animal friend. Some pet-food manufacturers now offer personalised meal kits, with some brands even offering to base this personalised diet on the animal’s blood work.

The spread of human nutrition trends into the world of pet food is likely to continue. Pet food manufacturers need to monitor the situation and adapt accordingly. As consumers are becoming more aware of their own personal health, there is a significant opportunity for the pet food industry to capitalise on that by offering products and concepts that humans can relate to, believe in, and consider ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ enough to feed their pet.