How human food trends have impacted pet food search terms


How human food trends have impacted pet food search terms

When portions of the world shut down in 2020, consumers started paying closer attention to their health.  The same can be said for pets.  

As pet adoptions increased throughout the United States during the early portions of the pandemic, pet parents started handling their pets’ lives with a human perspective. More than $175 billion is spent in a year in the U.S. on health and wellness products, proving that health and wellness is no longer a channel but a lifestyle. As a result, pet parents have started treating pets as another member of the family, making purchase decisions for their pets that align with their personal purchase decisions.   

Specialty diets

When you hear the terms vegan, all-natural, or high protein, you probably think of popular human food trends However, according to NielsenIQ Label Insight Trending Attributes, between December 2020 and January 2022, search terms associated with vegan pet food ranked 58th in the most searched for terms, with “raw” at 43rd and “high protein” at 54th. In past years, these terms never cracked the top 1001.  

One of the largest growing trends in pet food is the concept of frozen or refrigerated raw pet food. According to the American Kennel Club, “Feeding dogs a diet made with natural, real ingredients, such as beef, chicken, lamb, peas, spinach, carrots, and blueberries, can do wonders for their overall well-being—promoting heart health, increasing energy level, making coats shiny and breath smell better, improving eyesight, and even impacting a dog’s stool.”  

Not only are the health benefits of a raw diet for dogs proven, but the search for “refrigerated pet food” has grown 61% since March of 20212. While frozen and refrigerated pet food products only make up between 16% of total pet food products, the assortment of frozen options has grown 36% since 2020 and refrigerated options have grown 70.3%3.  

We predict that these trends will continue to take shape in the coming year as brands like Fresh Pet and Tylee’s are now conveniently distributed from e-commerce retailer Chewy.   

Functional ingredients and search terms  

While the world was locked down, pet parents were spending more time with their fur loved ones and started noticing different ailments or behaviors that could be easily treated with “food as medicine”—a common phrase used in the total wellness industry.  

According to the NielsenIQ Sustainability guide, holistic health ingredient searches are increasing year over year by double digits. The same can be said for functional health ingredients in pet food searches—but pet parents aren’t specifically searching for ingredients like CBD or chamomile.  

Instead, they are searching at the descriptive category level to combat the ailment they are seeking to treat. For example, the search volume for “calming” pet products has increased by 42% since March 2021, but the terms CBD or chamomile haven’t seen a notable change4.    

These search trends aren’t specific to calming products, but also span across “dental and breath health,” “sensitive stomach,” and “human grade” all-seeing double-digit search volume increases in the past year.   

The grain-free pet food trend  

The grain-free pet food movement became popular in reaction to the gluten-free human food trends that spiked in the early 2010s. However, in July 2018, the FDA announced an investigation into canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs eating certain pet foods labeled as “grain free.” This is an example of how a human food trend potentially had a negative impact on the landscape of the pet food industry. The announcement of the investigation resulted in a stark decrease in grain-free pet food purchases and search terms4.   

Then in September of 2020, the FDA released a report on their findings which indicated that they do not officially know the connection between a “grain-free” diet and DCM in dogs. Since then, the bounce-back of grain-free pet foods has been slow but is showing steady increases4. The true question the industry is facing now is, “are grain-free pet foods good or bad?”  

The answer to this question will come in time with more scientific research being released each year. Until then pet parents are making health decisions for their pets that they would make for themselves.  

Download the data  

The infographics available for download below include tables and graphs that include the information referenced above.   


1 NielsenIQ Label Insight Trending Attributes; Total Pet Food; Food & Beverage; Dec 2020-Jan 2022; All Channels  

2 NielsenIQ Label Insight Trending Attributes; Total Pet Food; Food & Beverage; Dec 2020-Jan 2022; All Channels 

3 NielsenIQ Retail measurement Services, NielsenIQ Product Insight, powered by Label Insight, Total pet Food; Total US xAOC + Pet; Quarterly data Q4 OND 2021 vs 2YA

5 NielsenIQ Label Insight Trending Attributes; Dog Food; Oct 2019-Feb 2022