When it comes to the consumer product goods (CPG) industry, there’s a few categories that aren’t intended for human consumers. Pet care is the perfect example. That said, discerning and knowledgeable consumers are just as focused on the health and wellness of their pets as they are on themselves.
So it should come as no surprise that ingredients and product attributes have become key focal points among consumers as they wander through the pet food aisles—both traditional and virtual. Including fresher and more natural ingredients parallels trends across human food, and the sales at the shelf are proof points.
According to NielsenIQ data, consumers spent $33 million on pet food with human-grade products over the past year. And you thought blueberries were just for your morning yogurt and carrots were just for your afternoon salad.
Freeze-dried food claims are heating up
But growth in the pet food arena isn’t limited to fresh food ingredients. Beyond fresh, premium offerings, such as food with freeze-dried claims, are heating up, too. In fact, dollar sales of air-drying/dehydrated full meal pet food have more than doubled over the past three years, growing from $23 million in 2015 to $53 million in 2018 (making up 1% of total dry foods). Freeze- and air-dried/dehydrated pet foods are raw alternative options that are preserved through a drying method (either extracting moisture by vaporizing the ice of frozen meat at sub-zero temperatures or by using warm air for the drying process, respectively).
Consumers are attracted to freeze- and air-dried pet foods because they’re usually free of added preservatives, and many offer enhanced benefits, such as improved digestion, shinier coat, smoother skin and stronger immune system. As with human products that tout enhanced benefits, pet products in this realm come with a premium price tag.
Pure freeze-dried pet food costs the average consumer approximately $33 per pound. Air-dried or dehydrated pet food costs approximately $10-$11 per pound. That said, there is a growing community of consumers willing to pay for premium offerings—and they’re actively popping up on shelves in regular kibble products, either as a “coat” on a kibble or being mixed into the dry food as an enhanced offering. For brands looking to ride this trend, investing in education is critical. That’s because consumers will need to understand the differentiating benefits of freeze-drying and air-drying/dehydrating and why it’s worth a higher price tag.
Meal-enhancing and ‘free from’ claims are making their mark
The meal enhancer sub-category is another growth opportunity as pet owners continue to seek out convenient ways to add nutritional and health benefits to their pet food. Meal enhancers already generate $93 million in sales, and they saw more than 25% growth year over year.
We’re also seeing consumers shift away from food options with artificial products, much like they’ve done with their own foods. In fact, free from artificial colors is the top attribute in terms of absolute dollar growth over the latest 52 weeks.
Lastly, we’ve seen private-label products rising in the ranks in pet care. We’re seeing retailers launch their own brands across all channels and all categories. In fact, the number of private-label items per store increased from 110 in 2015 to 130 in 2018, representing growth of 18%. Distribution of private-label items has grown as well, jumping from 35% of all pet retail shops in 2015 to 55% of all shops in 2018.
So, who’s actually winning the claim game in today’s pet arena? Truly, any and all brands that are tuned into the needs of today’s consumers and creating products that truly meet those needs are best equipped to persevere. Companies need to evaluate their product portfolios and then understand the impact of ingredients and the level of scrutiny that consumers apply to the products they purchase.
Regardless of whether in human food or pet food, consumers are looking for exceptional products that fulfill a purpose, offer superior value propositions and connect on a personal level. Consumers will stay focused on product claims and ingredient panels, which means all brands looking to remain at the top of the game will need to leverage data to stay in tune with the needs of today’s pet-loving consumer.