The pandemic affected everything – even pet food! Yes, you read that correctly. The changes in human behaviour caused by lockdowns and COVID-19 avoidance affected the way people related to their pets and their animals’ healthcare, according to several studies.
An Upswing in Pet Ownership
Pet ownership increased too – between May 2020 and May 2021, according to Mintel, US pet ownership went from 54% of adults to 57%. A 3% increase in a single year is unprecedented. It created a vast new cohort of consumers looking to orient themselves within their new world of pet ownership, including nutrition and healthcare. And new pet owners are rather like new parents – they always want the very best for their “fur babies.”
Common trends which developed from 2020 onwards included an interest in healthier pet foods, organic pet foods, plus environmentally good and ethical foodstuffs for animals. Nutritional products for pets increased by 13.6% in the same period, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), across all categories.
A Focus upon Health and Vitality
In line with pet owners paying attention to their own health in lockdown through vaccination, masking, exercising in lockdown and looking after vulnerable loved ones, pets were also diligently cared for. After all, dog-walking was often one of the few permitted forms of exercise a citizen could enjoy guilt-free.
In 2021, almost 100 major pet food innovations were patented, in line with this expansion of interest. Among the innovations were many new products and processes developed to improve pet health including, in the words of Pet Food Processing, “those that address specific health concerns such as inflammation, digestion and obesity.”
It seems likely that while people were actively concerned with their own health, this empathic response extended naturally to their pets. From a practical standpoint too, the more time owners had to spend in their home with foul-smelling and nausea-inducing pet food products, the more they were likely to seek out an alternative.
This created a whole new product sector, including (with some controversy) vegetarian and vegan pet food products. According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “projections suggest that the global vegan pet food market, worth $9.6bn (£7.8bn) in 2020, will generate $16.3bn annually by 2030.”
Enforced canine veganism aside, pet owners are more and more looking for pet food which has the gourmet quality of human food. This writer once managed to lure two friends’ recalcitrant cats back into the home one evening by substituting John West tuna for their usual cheap and cheerful tinned cat food. The swap had an immediate and dramatic effect. The feline end consumers clearly approved of this development and were present and correct at dinnertime from then on.
Types of Healthy Pet Food on Sale in 2022
There are many innovative types of pet food on the market, in this ever-expanding category:
- Organic, pet food from fresh ingredients – e.g., Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company Ltd.
- Food products designed to reduce obesity – e.g., Happy Dog Adipositas
- Gourmet food products to treat your pet – e.g., ZooPlus Gourmet Wet Cat Food
- Variety packs, offering expanded choices – e.g., Applaws Cat Food Pouches
- Vegan and vegetarian options – e.g., The Pack Vegan Dog Food
- Hypoallergenic animal feed – e.g., Noochy Poochy
- Food targeting other health conditions – glossy coats, anti-parasitic – e.g., Go Solutions
- Snacks designed to be less smelly – e.g., JR Pet Products Odor-Free Pizzle Sticks
- Bespoke menu boxes delivered to your door – Tails.com
In short, if as a pet owner you can imagine it, there’s probably a start-up concocting and marketing it. The market is wide open for new products, and ripe for further innovation.
Example of Nutritional Dog Food; Source: The Pack
Advances in Food Manufacturing Drives Innovation
One of the triggers for this wave of innovation are the advances in food manufacturing of recent decades. From affordable freeze-drying technology to automated vacuum sealing, a number of food preservation and sublimation techniques have extended the shelf life of fresh food products. Using these methods, more items can be stored at room temperature on store and closet shelves, or sold through ecommerce portals, allowing niche products to become global brands.
Meanwhile, there’s a move to create organic food production methods which have a smaller environmental impact, and consumers are willing to pay a little more for this benefit, particularly when they believe it’s also helping their four-legged friends. The organic pet food production market is expected to demonstrate a CAGR of 8.9% between 2021 and 2028, reaching a total US market value of $9.09 billion by the end of that period.
The new innovations that Pet Food Processing magazine identified in 2021, include:
- Nano-formulations containing coated Omega-3 particles from fish oil for health benefits.
- A newly engineered edible chew which improves tooth and mouth health.
- Improved pet food processing equipment to extract higher fresh meat percentages.
- Methods for co-extruding different products onto the same animal feed product, creating a chew with two distinct flavours.
- Methods for improving the bacterial biome of companion animals (Nestle).
- Microwave sterilization or pasteurization.
- A technique for dusting dry feed with a probiotic element (Mars).
As you can see from the Mars and Nestle examples, the trend towards healthier pet food has spread from small, disruptive start-ups to the major players in mass food production. The reason is self-evident – if there’s a market for it, then there’s a way to make it profitable at scale.
Manipulative Marketing – the Empathy Trigger
There has also been a slew of stories about how unhealthy traditional low-cost pet food is, both for the animals it’s fed to, and for the animals it’s made from. Shocking articles such as this one, about the unhealthy environment in which pet food is produced, circulate widely on the internet.
Websites with names like dogfoodadvisor.com and truthaboutpetfood.com further the message that traditional domestic animal feeds are unhygienically produced, from low-cost meat waste products. They explain that these meat products are sourced from battery farm animals once the premium cuts have been removed for human consumption.
Pet owners are notoriously manipulatable, for easily understood reasons. Like the parents of young children, they want to believe they’re providing the very best for their charges. Pet-related content has an incredible degree of virality on social media. A recent survey from Sky Mobile of British consumers revealed that cute animal content is by far the most popular category of shared memes (23% reported this as their favorite).
America is scarcely less pet-crazy. There’s even a name for the potentially lucrative art of sharing pet content – “the cute economy” – with pet’s social media accounts scoring upwards of three million followers. Of course, the flipside is content focusing on animal cruelty, and the darker side of pet ownership. This potent mix of adoration, disgust and anger is easy to manipulate.
The mix of genuine innovation, heart-warming messaging and bad publicity is proving highly disruptive to the legacy pet food producers, who are beginning to respond with their own organic, vegan, or healthy product lines. Nestle has Purina Pro Plan, which focuses on quality ingredients and high nutritional content. As early as 2018, Mars jumped on the paleo bandwagon, with its Wild Frontier line, which it claims, “taps into Pets’ Instinctual Needs with Prey-Based Recipes and Protein-Rich Ancestral Nutrition.”
Business Information and Competitor Intelligence Informs Innovation
It’s clear that there’s room for a lot more innovation, variety, and market segmentation within modern pet nutrition. By leveraging popular yet lasting trends such as vegan pet food, organic ingredients and modern methods of preservation, new entrants into the marketplace can find themselves a highly lucrative whitespace.
Even if the feline and canine sectors seem saturated, there are rodents, tropical fish, birds, even reptiles, all of which would benefit from healthier food and happier owners.
To find your niche in this rapidly expanding market, there are a few research steps to take first. Ideally start-ups will first run sector analysis, competitor analysis and searches of recent patents, trademarks and copyright claims lodged. The business intelligence and data analytic systems Evalueserve specializes in can be key when running such research.
Using appropriate algorithmic and analytic methods, we can identify all the competitors working in your chosen market. We can analyze what customers are saying, what their complaints are, and what’s missing. Evalueserve will help you spot a niche, prove a marketing concept, or identify patents which could threaten the viability of your approach.
Don’t waste large sums of money developing a marketing campaign when a search of rival products throws up consumer objections which might prompt a change of direction. Let us help shape your brand and market positioning to ensure you have the best chance of success.
In healthier animal food, you’ve already identified a potentially huge and lucrative market. There can be few bonds stronger than those between a pet owner and their furry, feathered, or finned friends. Get the product, marketing and branding right, with Evalueserve’s help, and you could soon see your innovative pet food stocking shelves worldwide.